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coverpic flag US - Florida - Full Moon 99 - 10/28/04

Iron & Wine + C.W. Stoneking + Grand Salvo
The Corner Hotel, Richmond, Melbourne, AUS, 04.10.04

It's a quiet Monday night at the Corner. The second stage is curtained off and the remaining performance space is encircled with café tables and chairs. I wouldn't normally have chosen to see Iron & Wine for the second time in a year, but a friend of a friend is supporting and it's always great to see people you know up on stage.

Grand Salvo are a duo that are closely aligned with the aesthetic of their headlining act. With just an acoustic guitar and a male and a female voice, Zöe and Paddy spin warm, rustic tales that are a little more vulnerable and haunting than those of Sam Beam but with less melodic variation. The vocal interplay is frequently gorgeous and they create a lovely intimate atmosphere even in a venue like the Corner.

After Grand Salvo's hushed tones, C.W. Stoneking is like a bucket of bourbon in the face. And that's a good thing too. I've never heard of him before, but it seems he's something of a regular performer in the Melbourne live scene and it's easy to see why: growling gutbucket blues performed with passion, verve and humour. He plays the guitar like a demon; he wears natty threads; he sings catchy tunes and mutters to himself. I couldn't quite decide whether he was a sly, knowing parody of old blues performers or whether it was the just the way he played. Either way it makes for great entertainment.

Somewhere inbetween the two support acts in terms of style comes Iron & Wine. Ably backed by sister Sarah on backing vocals and tambourine, and Patrick on slide guitar and banjo, Sam is looking more confident as a live performer than when I saw him last December, and with another album of good songs behind him there's plenty of material to flesh out a quality set. However, for me it didn't quite send shivers up the spine as I thought it would. Too mannered? Perhaps: Beam's vulnerability is part of what makes his songs so resonant. Too blasé? Maybe that's more the point: he can play all these songs with his eyes closed and seems a bit bored of doing so. To churn out competent facsimiles from the two albums doesn't make for a particularly thrilling live show.

Where "Naked as we came" on Our Endless Numbered Days stands proud as one of the most beautiful songs released this year, live Sam neglected to include Sarah's essential vocal backing and make the song shine. The rockier numbers on the album were also neglected or stripped down, which considerably lessened their power. With Brian Deck's production the loping repetitions of percussion and the bare guitar figures pointed in a potentially thrilling new direction. Live they were nowhere to be seen. Essentially Beam's songs are all arpeggios-by-numbers and carefully-observed and poetic lyrics. At home, on the stereo, it works. But live there's something missing, and you can almost see that Beam knows it.

Copyright © 2004 Tim Clarke e-mail address

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