In my mind I suppose I was expecting a bearded folkster singing gentle songs with his acoustic guitar; what we got was eight brilliant musicians performing and reworking familiar songs in a style that veered between swampy folk, classic rock, African pop and jazzy jamming. Sam Beam led his band like a man who had complete faith in the way his songs were being presented, allowing his very talented band to express themselves fully. I would have been just as happy to listen to him strumming his stuff with minimal accompaniment, but this was a truly musical show.
The main man switched between acoustic and electric guitars; his vocals were beautifully backed by a female singer whose voice blended perfectly with his. Other than that there were bass, drums, keyboards, mandolin, banjo, clarinent, flute and saxophone; and a guy playing a veritable smorgasbord of yokes he hit, shook, scraped and rattled with great precision. (Seeing a saxophone on stage usually sets alarm bells ringing for me, but this really was – to paraphrase Guy Garvey – responsible use of saxophone. Other than in one or two songs where there was sax overkill, it was mostly a well judged addition to the arrangements.)
They played a really good mix of, as he said himself, “new stuff, old stuff and middlin’ stuff”, often completely reinventing songs from the earlier, more acoustic albums. Just about everything was really good. His encore, where he did a solo performance of The Trapeze Swinger, (see below) was the icing on what was already a very tasty cake.
Support came from Tift Merritt, a female singer-songwriter from North Carolina. When Sam Beam came on for the main set he good-naturedly reprimanded the crowd for having talked through her music…she had apparently come off stage complaining. I actually thought the crowd was relatively quiet and attentive, particularly for an Amsterdam audience. My feeling is that she just wasn’t good enough and failed to hold the crowd’s attention. The songs didn’t seem very strong to me. My friend Danny said he just didn’t really believe what she was singing. I think support acts deserve attention for three or four songs – after that they need to earn it. (It was nice that she joined on backing vocals for some of the I&W songs.)
Here’s a nice performance of The Trapeze Swinger, the song played as the sole encore last night.