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Iron & Wine beamed fans into a dreamlike state at the Melbourne Recital Centre

Iron & Wine, the guise of musical wunderkind Sam Beam, has been hard at it for 16 years, delivering almost as many albums in that time and building upon his revered status as a lyricist in the process. Though it’s in the flesh where Beam shines best, not only adding soul to his art, but often rearranging elements in order to best fit the stage.

The Melbourne Recital Theatre seems an apt environment for Iron & Wine, its renowned acoustics providing the perfect environment to convey his pristine sound. At almost 9:30pm on the dot, as promised, Beam’s band take their places on stage. The four-piece get a subdued rhythm going before Beam tiptoes to the mic, shushing claps from the audience as not to disrupt his band, before joining in with opener ‘The Trapeze Swinger’.

Barely a breath can be heard from the crowd who sit watching on in a stunned silence as the dreamy folk sounds being produced before them wash over the room. The immaculately delicate sound isn’t to last, however. Whilst Iron & Wine’s sound is known for its gentle beauty, it’s much more than pretty music and Beam would never allow for a performance that were simply nice.

Turning his back on the crowd and raising his arms in the air, Beam conducts his band into a chaotic disarray of sound, organ keys clunking and strings screeching, before easing into another track. It’s moments such as this when the performers are able to play it up a little and the joy of doing so is evident in the way they throw their entire bodies into their playing,

Beam continues to pull out a number of favourites from across his expansive catalogue, including ‘Jezabel’ and ‘Call It Dreaming’, but it isn’t one of those gigs where fans beg for their favourite tracks to be played and sing along with every word – no matter what song is played next, the audience is satisfied. It helps that Beam, with the aid of his band, puts completely new spins on some of the tracks he has been playing for the past decade, making them feel shiny and new whilst maintaining a warm familiarity.

The crowd eventually breaks their awestruck silence as the evening progresses – largely through the coercion of Beam who constantly provokes the audience – providing what he refers to as “the gasoline on a musician’s fire” with a series of ecstatic cheers.

At times, one has to wonder whether Beam had enjoyed a few too many wines over the course of his double set or whether he is simply drunk on the spirit of the evening, laughing during a few tracks and even forgetting the lyrics at one point. These moments never mar the performance, instead adding vulnerability and charm and ultimately taking the edge of what would have otherwise been a serious affair.

The band act as if all connected to one brain. Elizabeth Goodfellow multitasks like an octopus as she exchanges mallets for brushes with one hand whilst producing a seemingly unending arsenal of percussive instruments with the other. Goodfellow and pianist Eliza Hardy Jones harmonise hauntingly beautiful backing vocals across the performance whilst Hardy Jones alternates between her electric keyboard and the adjacent organ and cellist Teddy Rankin-Parker and double bassist/guitarist Sebastian Steinberg pluck at their respective strings, moving their instruments as if within a slow dance with the wooden bodies.

Mid-performance, Beam reverts to his calling card with a few songs played solo, including ‘Naked As We Came’ and a show-stealing rendition of ‘Lovers’ Revolution’ in which he strips back the song to expose the guts of it, adding flare by embellishing certain lyrics with the likes of manic laughter, adlib lyrics and even a beatboxing solo.

The band returns to the stage shortly thereafter, arranging themselves beneath the cotton wool-like clouds that dangle from the ceiling above them, adding to the dreamy feel, for a final handful of songs including the beloved ‘Boy With A Coin’ and an encore of ‘About A Bruise’. After bidding the crowd their goodnights, the audience is forced to return to the real world which all had forgotten existed outside the Recital Centre for the previous hour and a half, wandering out in a daze after witnessing something so surreal. If ever presented with an opportunity to see Iron & Wine, take it. You’ll not be sorry.

Highlight: ‘Lovers’ Revolution’.

Lowlight: Knowing I may never hear this particular rendition of ‘Lovers’ Revolution’ again.

Crowd Favourite: ‘Naked As We Came’.