I want to see Iron & Wine perform in a cabin, hot toddy cupped in my hands, fat snowflakes swirling outside, fire blazing. I had to settle for Webster Hall last night, room temperature Jack and no fire. But I got my snowflakes falling and standing in the balcony of Webster looking over the packed floor of entranced New Yorkers, somehow Iron & Wine's Sam Beam made the cavernous hall feel as intimate as the Living Room. The entire night ran like a campfire sing-along. Arriving at 8:45, Calexico promptly took the stage and ran through their Spaghetti Western-meets-Country Folk set. A stage full of musicians alternating between lap steel, trumpets, cello, accordion, glockenspiel, two drum kits and the usual rock accoutrements were led by singer/guitarist Joey Burns. For the final two songs, Salvador Duran joined the band on stage with maracas and contributed his classic baritone vocals. After the last song Calexico left the stage for Salvador Duran to play his flamenco guitar, stomp his feet and convey songs from another time period.
The surprise guest came after Salvador offered his brief set. Sufjan Stevens came out to thunderous applause and met with a few disappointed groans when he said he would sing just two songs, including a song he explained he’d written for some endangered woodpecker. The excited applause and muted heckling from the audience for Sufjan’s set was as rowdy as the spellbound crowd got last night. Continuing the mellow vibe, walking on stage just as Sufjan finished, Sam Beam took the stage with his sister Sarah Beam standing by his side offering vocals and violin. It’s easy to understand why Iron & Wine create perfect winter records. The intimacy of the whispered vocals swirling around delicate guitar lines, embodying stories sighed in your ear late at night are conveyed in every song. Occasionally, additional musicians joined the Beam siblings on stage, but the most goose-bump-inducing moments came in their duets on tracks like “Sodom, South Georgia,” and the epic closer “The Trapeze Swinger.”
After the Iron & Wine set, the sing-along expanded. Members of Calexico wandered off and on the stage for the combined set, performing songs from their In the Reins EP, bringing Calexico’s combined dynamic down and challenging Sam’s voice to raise from his hushed murmur. Together, Calexico and Iron & Wine produce music that should be a soundtrack to a creepy winter old timey love story, with shadowy light and confusedly crossed lovers. Rounding out the night with a cover of “All Tomorrow’s Parties” with about twenty people on stage, the majesty of the night washed over the room. Iron & Wine should only tour in late fall and winter. And in every city they should play one night in a cathedral and the next night in a cabin. Who do I talk to for this to happen?