If you missed Iron and Wine’s free show at Millennium Park last night, let me catch you up!

I’m a big fan of Iron and Wine’s new record, Kiss Each Other Clean, the ambitious, yet logical, follow-up to 2007′s Shepard’s Dog. I think of it as Sam Beam’s (The Guy with the Beard from Iron and Wine) experiment with psychedelic sounds and textures, while still maintaining the Southern folk roots and storytelling lyrics that makes I&W’s music so compelling. I’ve been listening to I&W since Garden State, and this was my fifth time seeing the band. So how did the new songs sound live?

Predictably cool! Just as the sun was setting, Beam and ten other musicians stepped onto the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Beam has an expansive song catalog, and most of the setlist’s songs came from Woman King onward (including the super-cute prom song from Twilight as an encore). The outdoor setting was perfect for Beam’s music: it looked like the pink sunlight was reflected off of the aluminum pavilion. The crowd danced, sang, and seemed into the show and, as the MC remarked, “It finally felt like summer.”

Since he went electric with Woman King, Beam’s shows have been split between solo performances and large group ensembles. I prefer solo shows because they lets listeners see the striped down basics of Beam’s songs, and hear every word of his lyric sheet. However, it’d be almost impossible to keep last night’s huge crowd happy with just an acoustic guitar (how many people were there? I’d guess 10k?). Not to mention, I&W’s last two albums deserve full instrumentation. No song exemplifies this better than Kiss Each Other Clean’s epic closing track, “Your Fake Name Is Good Enough For Me”. Taking full advantage of his horn section, Beam jammed for close to seven minutes complete with soloing, texturing, and building to a satisfying climax, where every lyric becomes an inexplicable existential profundity (Where we become “the weeds,” “the sea,” ”the weary and the wild,” and “an ice cream cone” just to name a few).

I shouldn’t forget The Head and the Heart–last night’s opening act. I’m unfamiliar with these guys, but they sound like Fleet Foxes influenced indie-folk. Acoustic guitars, vocal harmonies, and roots-rock sound abound! Usually, this kind of music doesn’t play well outside, but the group’s strong singers made everything sound full and round. The final song, Rivers and Roads, was my favorite because of the kick ass female vocal solo. The Head and the Heart signed to Sub Pop semi-recently and I can’t wait to check out their first album.

Finally, a word or two about Chicago Downtown Sound: New Music Mondays: these concerts are awesome. Best of all, they’re free–so even if I could complain, I wouldn’t. The city books consistently great bands; the sound people are spot on; XRT records the shows and plays them on Sunday nights; it’s BYOW (bring your own whatever) for picnicking; there’s tons of pretty girls wearing cute dresses; etc. It’s a great time! Thanks, Chicago!

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