There's that point every summer when it just feels like summer: insects chirp, barbecues smoke, the air is a little hazy and sleepy. Iron and Wine's Sam Beam and Band of Horses' Ben Bridwell imbue their music - year round - with a touch of these languid days. However, at the Carnegie of Homestead Music Hall last night, the duo paid homage to the season with their equally complementary vocal styles and instrumentation, showcasing tracks from their album of covers, Sing Into My Mouth
Beam's stage presence is something to behold; he converses with his audience, yet somehow seems to soothe them at the same time, via every lyric he croons and every aside he utters. Example: he kicked off this show telling the crowd how happy he was to be back in Pittsburgh, and genuinely shared the love he has for this city. (You almost just wanted to give him a hug.) While he might have said it, both he and Bridwell shone with this sentiment through the entire set.
Such a swelling, sweltering evening was certainly tempered by the melancholy of pedal steel and ringing guitar strumming omnipresent during the set. During "Slow Cruel Hands of Time," Beam's distinctively earnest edge and gently assertive guitar playing softened the music, adding to its summer-perfect vibe. And just the right blend of pedal steel, guitars and drums brought an ache to the throat, and nostalgia to the mind, while helping these artists re-imagine solid tunes from artists as wide-ranging as Sade, Talking Heads and Ronnie Lane. Other neat techniques of note: the organ-like keys and inclusion of reedy, breathy clarinets, as refreshing as that one random breeze which can always cut the humidity.
Bridwell took the lead on more upbeat songs, his strong and deliciously whiny vocals standing up to the full band. Yet he imbued his cover of Beam's "Flightless Bird, American Mouth," with a vocal sensitivity - surprising, given his energy - and further toned down "The General Specific" to match Beam's mellow, melodic subtleties.
Of course, the pair were at their best playing together, riffing off one another, communicating their friendship and collaboration with their own good-natured charm through the sometimes poignant words of others. Another outstanding track, the short, achy Marshall Tucker Band original "Ab's Song" brought the pair together alone onstage. The balance between the light and brief track and its heavier words was personified via the Beam and Brid well's unique voices, sounds and personalities.
As the music and set wove in and out of the audience, the venue's temperature rose, giving it a very South Carolina feel. "It's hot as shit in here," Beam stated, yet chose to keep on his velvet jacket, telling the audience they didn't want to see what was underneath. Both artists, however, stripped down and presented their authentic sound onstage, whether singing their words, or covering others' songs. And that filled up the room with more creativity and loveliness and wonder than the heat on a summer's night ever could. Next time, we just want them to bring a few fireflies, a camp fire and some cold beers to share.