The man behind the grizzly, unkempt beard and moniker Iron & Wine is Sam Beam, the finger plucking, beautiful song crooning songwriting wizard. His latest project is a duet collaboration with the eclectic, experimental and unique, Joni Mitchell-esque style of Jesca Hoop. Sam and Jess recently performed their album Love Letter For Fire at Town Hall in New York City, and just like their record, which displayed an unmatched, impeccable chemistry, their live performance was nothing short of tight, well rehearsed, magical harmonies.
The opening number Kiss Me Quick set the vibe just right and so did their stage prop of about 20 lamps. The song is a great opener because just as the title begs for a quick kiss, the two veteran performers capture the audience for a quick listen, because before you know it, they’re onto the next song.
Know The Wild That Wants You is arguably the most exciting track from the record and hearing it live puts this catchy, mesmerizing tune as the leading exhibit of the unmatched Beam/Hoop chemistry. Beam’s percussive acoustic guitar starts off the song and then Hoop’s angelic vocals set the bold, experimental attitude of the song. The two join in uplifting, flawless harmony during the chorus, “Feel your own bones say ‘heal yourself’ hear your own heart moan ‘love yourself and come home’”, which ends in a beautiful falsetto.
One of the most exciting things to look forward to when seeing a live concert is what the artist or band has up its sleeve to surprise fans with a different version of the song they’ve memorized on the album. Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop chose to revamp Midas Tongue at this live performance and it made the transition from the softer, mellow part of the song to the louder, rocking part even more brilliant. The first part of the song was performed in a lower key than originally recorded on the album but then after the chorus they jumped right back into the key that all the fans have been singing along too since the release of Love Letter For Fire.
After a lovely rendition of We Two Are A Moon, the song that contains the lyrics which inspired the title of the album, Sam fingerpicked his way into Belated Promise Ring, an Iron & Wine song from Around The Well. Packed with bright harmonies from Jesca this song stood out as an upbeat, crowd lifting number in the middle of a somber, serious theme of songs.
And it wasn’t until later on in the sombre set of music (during Bright Lights and Goodbyes to be specific), that I happened to notice Jesca’s dress matched the glow of lamps that were spread out along the stage. Soft Place To Land was another highlight of the set as Hoop’s Joni Mitchell influences shined tremendously (which could explain why Coyote was on the house playlist to pump her up for the show). It’s hard to tell who sings the higher falsetto melody because Sam can catch up to a feminine octave very swiftly.
Sam busted out another Iron & Wine song Resurrection Fern but this version with Jesca on harmonies was played in a lower key. Next they performed the first song they finished together but never made the album. The tune was called Milky Way and featured a very percussive guitar beat from Sam. After the mellow and peaceful One Way To Pray, the two experimental folkies delivered a rockin’ lift up from the typical quiet theme of the album with their song Chalk It Up To Chi.
The ending highlight of the night was Every Songbird Says. The a capella transition from the chorus “oooo it’s enough”, back into a full band sound on the second verse was truly magnificent as Jesca began to dance around the stage and burst with excitement.
Sam and Jesca are the latest Tiny Desk Concert feature on NPR. Check out the magical, perfect, flawless chemistry here: www.npr.org
Scott J. Herman