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Iron & Wine at Crescent Ballroom, 12/2/11

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Iron & Wine Crescent Ballroom 12/2/11

How much saxophone is too much saxophone? You might want to ask the young lady who passed out during the extended dub-into-free jazz-psychedelic blues skronk of "Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog)," the fifth song played by Iron & Wine last night at Crescent Ballroom.

Wait, isn't Iron and Wine quiet and stuff? Like, M&M commercials and Garden State snooze?

Not anymore, you could surmise, as the Crescent crew dragged the conked-out girl, dutifully offering her water and a place to sit.

"I'm sorry," she said. "I don't know what happened."

Chances are she got a little overheated, but I think it was the sax. Or the clarinet. Or flute, or extended keyboard drones, or angular, Afro-Celt art guitars, or a feeling that neo-folkie Sam Beam has wonderfully morphed his quiet folk songs into stranger, bigger things.

On the 2003 EP of the same name "The Sea and the Rhythm" sounded like a lament beamed over the dying tubes of some old transistor radio; on stage at the Crescent it took on a new feel, showcasing Beam and his eight-piece band as a modern R&B combo. It sounded like Sade, and that is a great, if unusual thing.

"How are you guys doing out there?" Beam asked, his Southern draw quiet and mumbly. "We gotta remember to check in with you guys. We could play all night. Shit."

They couldn't really. A quick chat revealed that the band was headed to Los Angeles after the show, to perform at KCRW''s "Are Friends Eclectic" Holiday Show, co-headlining with band hero Jimmy Cliff.

But the band didn't seem in a rushed at all, exploring a bombastic arrangement of "My Lady's House," swapping Kiss Each Other Clean's bleating sax for '70s-soul flute on "Big Burned Hand," and nodding to Beam's most obvious antecedents, Paul Simon on the skittering "Jesus the Mexican Boy" and Van Morrison on "House by The Sea."

I've loved the direction that Beam has steadily steered Iron & Wine in (2007's Shepherd's Dog felt like a real arrival in many ways), delving into a record collection rich with prog, soul, Motown, and Neil Young LPs. Those early, New Weird Americana collections of yore, The Creek Drank the Cradle and Our Endless Numbered Days, are stellar, moving collections of songs.

But you could actually move to last night's set. At one point, I realized that I was sort of doing that awkward, Bonnaroo-ish white boy dance. Oh no, this is no good.

The reality of it all almost made me pass out. I'll blame it on the sax.

Set List:

Rabbit Will Run Me and Lazarus Sea and the Rhythm Jesus the Mexican Boy Wolves (Song of the Shepherd's Dog) Walking Far From Home Lovesong of the Buzzard Half Moon Boy With a Coin Big Burned Hand God Made the Automobile Freedom Hangs Like Heaven My Lady's House Free Until They Cut Me Down House By the Sea Woman King Fever Dream Tree by the River

Encore:

He Lays in the Reigns

Critic's Notebook Last Night: Iron & Wine and Marketa Irglova at Crescent Ballroom

It Was a Great Show, but it Would Have Been Better If: Beam's buddies Calexico showed up.

Personal Bias: I played clarinet for a decade, so I love seeing someone get down on the "'ole licorice stick." Woody Allen would be proud (while complaining about everything else).

The Crowd: Pretty "All Things Considered," which is to say, diverse, but not too diverse, and well-dressed, but not too well dressed.

Click here to see more photos.

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