On the drive to see Iron & Wine at the Orpheum on Halloween night, my photographer husband and I considered whether or not concert attendees would dress up for the occasion. I never considered that the band members themselves would get into the spirit of the holiday. However, when the curtain went up for the headlining act that night, those of us in the audience were greeted by an entire ensemble of Muppets. Yes, Muppets.
Amid a rousing rendition of “The Muppet Show Theme,” Sam Beam, the man behind Iron & Wine, walked on stage dressed as (who else?) Jim Henson, taking his place behind a mic stand on which a stuffed version of Kermit the Frog would hang for the duration of the performance. The three-part string section contained a life-sized version of the famous frog, the Swedish chef provided the night’s bass lines, and Pepe the Prawn was on baritone sax. Needless to say, we were in for a fun night.
After Beam welcomed the enthusiastic LA crowd with a couple of lines from “The Rainbow Connection,” he launched into “The Dessert Babbler” off 2013′s Ghost on Ghost, swapping out the opening line of “It’s New Year’s Eve” for “It’s Halloween.” The set list included quite a few tracks from that new release, and as I noted when catching Iron & Wine at The Wiltern on the day of the release of 2011′s Kiss Each Other Clean, the crowd was just as eager to hear the new tracks live as they were keen on the old favorites.
I’m always surprised upon seeing Sam Beam live just how personable and comfortable he is interacting with the audience. His work is so complex and innovative, I expect him to have the stereotypical “artiste” attitude, misunderstood or at least somewhat introverted, but he’s always exceptionally good-natured and even a little goofy.
During a middle section of the show during which the supporting band left and Beam serenaded us with only his guitar, not only did he take requests from the audience, he also responded to many of the more ridiculous outbursts from the giddy crowd (when someone suggests “Goodwill!” after he commented on the difficulty of finding a turtle neck for his costume in Southern California, he made sure to let them know he’d tried that thrift store as well).
One of those mid-show requests turned out to be the set highlight, the almost-ten-minute long track “The Trapeze Swinger” from Iron & Wine’s 2009 collection of rarities and previously unreleased tracks, Around the Well. Even Beam seemed surprised at how long the crowd felt the need to applaud after the last strains of that one filled the luxe venue.
After an acoustic version of Ghost on Ghost’s “The Waves of Galveston,” the full band came back, and Beam asked if we were “ready for a little racket?” We insisted we were and were rewarded with the new album’s opener, “Caught in the Briars.”
An extended improvisational section in the middle of the song allowed the horn section an extra chance to shine (Have you ever seen Fozzie Bear rock out on a saxophone? I have.), while the trio of Miss Piggys providing backing vocals stood out with their gorgeous harmonies on the next track the group performed, “Jezebel,” off the 2005 EP Woman King.
Near the end of the set, Sam once again checked in with the crowd, asking if we were having a good time, and a considerate (and likely slightly drunk) audience member thought to ask how he was doing. As was the case the rest of the night, Beam responded, but he really didn’t need to this time as the answer was obvious: “I’m having a ball. Look at us.”