Iron and Wine @ The First Unitarian Church

Iron and Wine | The First Unitarian Church (Los Angeles, CA) | June 23rd, 2013 |

Iron and Wine made a somewhat rare appearance in LA playing for a delighted crowd that filled the seats of the First Unitarian Church all the way up through the balcony. Iron and Wine is basically Sam Beam but for this occasion, the bard came with an army. Twelve people, to be exact, transformed the church’s alter into a busy stage with a string section, a mini-choir, the standard bass and drums, and a particularly animated instrumental trio who picked up various instruments to give just the right color to any song. Generally, Iron and Wine could be thought of as more contemplative, bordering on morose, but with the full ensemble onstage Sam’s melancholic voice was trumped by a more spirited energy from the instrumentalists who were all smiles and, at times, coordinated dance moves.

The fun atmosphere on stage translated to the crowd who took to dancing from the comfort of their padded chairs. The band went through a prescribed list of songs, several from the new album, Ghost on Ghost, but also a few older, more upbeat tunes. Then, at some point, all left the stage save Sam and the strings who played a couple tunes including the renowned cover of The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights.”

The crowd really started to engage when Sam did a mini set sans the band. The audience called out favorites and Sam picked the ones he liked, many more obscure deeper cuts or songs from his earlier albums. Without the band as a cover, Sam’s unique and compelling vocals really began to shine. As their favorites were being performed, the cheering became louder and the audience even began to supply background vocals and percussion. During one song in particular, the fans began to pick up a percussive clapping and Sam warned them that it was a long song with three versus so they’d better be careful before they committed, but commit they did and the clapping remarkably did not waiver until it erupted into applause at the end of the song.

Sam’s “band” came back out to close the set with a handful of songs including the first single from Ghost on Ghost called “Grace For Saints and Ramblers.” Although, Sam did not say much during the set, except to profess gratitude, he certainly made the audience feel loved and appreciated right up to the end when he returned for a solo encore. He prefaced the final song by saying it’s not a tune he plays much anymore, but we had been such a good audience that he would make an exception. With heightened anticipation he broke out into “The Trapeze Swinger” and the crowd roared with approval before turning completely silent to absorb every note and nuance of the 7+ minute opus that, despite its defiance of standing songwriting conventions, comes across as one of the most beautiful and heart-stilling songs. Upon completion, the audience stood, applauded, and in quiet contemplation, filed out of the church as if they had indeed been privy to a religious experience. Overall, a great night.

— Kristen Coveleskie