Iron & Wine @ O2 Academy, Glasgow, 25 Jun
Despite the venue not being packed out, tonight's atmosphere is electric and Iron & Wine delivers an intoxicating headrush of a show
With huge white drapes covering off the balcony and the imposing theatre-style stage looming in the darkness, walking into the Academy tonight feels like exploring an old abandoned home. Above the stage hang tiny model clouds on ropes and centre stage is a battered looking piano. It’s certainly an atmospheric welcome for a pair of artists whose emotional songs are equally affecting in quite different ways.
Our first act of the evening is the phenomenally talented Kathryn Joseph, whose 2015 debut record Bones You Have Thrown Me, And Blood I've Spilled won the coveted award of Scottish Album of the Year. Sitting at the piano in a spooky looking dress, Joseph delivers a bewitching set with plenty of blood and shadow to her evocative lyrics. The title track to her debut in particular lays on the gothic drama, showing off her dynamic piano playing and atmospheric percussion.
Soon though, it is time for Sam Beam – the man, the beard, the legend – to take to the stage. Over six albums and a decade-and-a-half as Iron & Wine, he’s weaved an intricate path between heartbroken solo troubadour, obsessive studio sound constructionist and charismatic bandleader and tonight all three guises are on display.
A former Christian-turned-tortured-soul agnostic, there’s plenty of fire and brimstone to Iron & Wine songs but also a cast of characters yearning for fulfilment. Initially backed by a four-piece comprising cello, piano, upright bass and drums, and then later solo, Beam teases out his characters’ romantic and spiritual desires (and a few of his own) in winning fashion.
With his huge, warm voice and friendly demeanour, he’s an engaging character, ribbing a quiet audience and picking the right side in the Glasgow vs Edinburgh rivalry. Last Night is a fantastic showcase for his abilities as a bandleader as he leads his troupe through a gorgeous, impeccably constructed arrangement, but the biggest cheers come for the heartbreaking Nick Drake-like finger picking of Naked as We Came and his almost unrecognisable reconfiguration of The Postal Service’s Such Great Heights.
It might not be a packed Academy but the atmosphere is electric and by the time Iron & Wine close with About a Bruise from last year’s intimate and curiously-named Beast Epic, Beam has the crowd in the palm of his hand. An intoxicating headrush of a show.