The first thing that you can’t help but notice about Fraser A. Gorman is that he basically lives in black jeans, a jacket and Bob Dylan’s haircut. The next, not quite so obvious, is the stutter that presents itself during the between-song banter. He has crafted a persona that uses clever phrasing and an impish charm which renders it somewhat unnoticed. More importantly though, is when Gorman is not busy in his job as a carpenter, he is crafting wordy tunes that have seen him come under the watchful guidance of Courtney Barnett.
Gorman promised he would return before the end of the year with his full band, but before that he showed his wares as a solo performer. Whether he be playing his brand new single Walking To Oman’s, faithfully covering hero Jeff Tweedy’s Golden Smog tune Radio King or cheekily delivering a whistle solo during Silence Turns To Gold, Gorman won over the crowd with his honest execution and affable songs.
It may have taken 15 years for Iron & Wine to make their way to Perth, yet the stage adornments that greeted punters set the scene for what was to be a memorable show. Fluffy billowing clouds hung from the ceiling, with soft lighting adding to the fairytale nature of the setting. The band were first on stage for the opening salvo of Winter Prayers, but it was the unmistakable beard of frontman Sam Beam and his tenor voice that had people captivated from the onset.
The Trapeze Swinger may have been relegated to a nine minute acoustic tune on a rarities compilation, but was given the full band work over at the Astor. Its subtle melody was augmented by double bass, cello, bells, bongos and warm harmonies, which only added to its standing as one of Sam Beam’s greatest songs. The band visited one of Iron & Wine’s most rustic efforts with a layered version of Wolves (Song Of The Shepherd’s Dog) to illustrate the band’s dexterity.
After Beam aired his delight that so many people made it out to hear his often depressing tunes, he announced Bitter Truth as “not the feel good hit of the year”. It mattered little as the crowd ate up the heartfelt slice of sullenness. Iron & Wine delved back to a time when their stock-in-trade was bedroom folk. Jesus The Mexican Boy was a welcome surprise, even when Beam forgot lyrics before declaring that the tune has “so many fucking words” to great applause and chuckles from the band and patrons alike.
The band members retreated to the wings of the stage as Beam stood next to his glass of red wine to play some tunes that harked back to the sounds of his humble home studio beginnings. The Postal Service cover of Such Great Heights is the tune that brought the band attention through its placement in the film Garden State. Beam stripped away the original’s heavy beats to show that he is the master of melody even when spared the bells and whistles. Naked As We Came was a honey-tinged whisper that had the room silenced by its tenderness.
Beam is a unique talent, but he has surrounded himself with a crack team of musical assassins that not only master the songs from the latest album, but also reinvent those that have been drawn out of the back catalogue. Drummer Elizabeth Goodfellow deserves mention for her use of bongos to play the hi-hat patterns, deadening the drums with handkerchiefs over the skins, tying bells to her legs for added percussion, as well incorporating a hubcap, spoons and all the while singing flawless harmonies.
With a collection of tunes geared towards Beam’s most reflective, it highlighted that he has a voice that is as adept at bringing a tear as it is to making one weak at the knees. Cinder and Smoke was a case in point, with the up-tempo About A Bruise being delivered in a celebratory tone. When reappearing for the encore, a supple take of Bird Stealing Bread was left as a fragile end to an expert performance. The crowd stood to display their appreciation for a gig that will be spoken about for years to come. This was one out of the box.
Photos by Linda Dunjey