The album “Our Endless Numbered Days” was released in March 2004 and quickly became a definitive indie album of the decade. Sam Beam, the driving force behind the band Iron and Wine, joined the National Symphony Orchestra this past week to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the album with a combination of rich new orchestral arrangements and stripped down classic renditions of these hauntingly beautiful songs.
Beam recorded Iron and Wine’s first album, “The Creek Drank the Candle” in his home studio, which was well regarded, and later gained attention for his cover of the Postal Service’s song “Such Great Heights.” This led to the album of the evening, “OEND,” which has sold over 556,000 copies and has been featured in a large number of films and television shows. Since then, Iron and Wine have released several more albums, including a personal favorite, “The Shepherd’s Dog,” and recently announced an upcoming collaborate album with Calexico entitled “Years to Burn.”
It is also inspiring to see the National Symphony orchestra’s commitment to continue to push the boundaries of what is “orchestral” music and provide programming that makes this beautiful music and accomplished group of musicians more accessible to a myriad of audiences.
Conducting the NSO was arranger-conductor, David Campbell. He is both incredibly prolific and well-regarded in his field, having worked on some very high profile scores and garnering Oscar nominations for his work on songs from “Pearl Harbor” and “Dreamgirls,” winning for “You’ll Be In My Heart” from Disney’s “Tarzan.” In addition to conducting, he also arranged all of the orchestral versions of the Iron and Wine songs, and worked collaboratively with Beam to perform these works in a series of three concerts; in Cincinnati, Los Angeles, and of course, Washington D.C.
The NSO, with Campbell at the helm, kicked off the show with a piece called “Follow My Heart.” Its melancholy sound blended well with Iron and Wine’s typical aesthetic, an oft-joked about a theme that Beam pointed out several times throughout the show. The piece began with a stirring French Horn solo, coupled with some rich sounds from the bass and cello sections. There was also an excellent use of dynamics to infuse the piece with feeling.
Beam then joined the orchestra and expressed how excited he was to perform his music on such a grand scale, with such a respected orchestra. He said it was a “real treat” to be able to re-interpret these songs with them. They kicked off this section with “Sunset Soon Forgotten,” with the woodwinds and strings adding tangible dimension to a song well familiar to the packed crowd of fans. He continued, playing favorites like “Fever Dream,” and “Sodom, South Georgia,” and perhaps the best-known tune from the album, “Naked As We Came.” Backing vocals were very ably provided by Eliza Hardy Jones, Kellt Hogan, and Nora O’Connor.
Between songs, Beam spoke about some of the influences he had when making the album and how they inspired these songs that have come to mean so much to people. Right before recording “OEND” he became a father for the first time, got married, and was able to transition into music as his primary career, all of which affected the songs on the album. He also spoke about how “you never know where life is going to take you.” He thanked his fans for their support; Beam looked back and when this album was initially released, he was playing in “s**tholes,” and now has the opportunity to be onstage at the Kennedy Center.
After finishing the first half of the concert with a lovely and extended version of “The Trapeze Singer,” there was a brief intermission. The second half of the show was much more stripped down, with Beam on his acoustic guitar and the assistance of Hardy Jones, Hogan, and O’Connor on some of the numbers. This included two favorite songs from OEND, “Each Coming Night” and “Love and Some Verses,” which closed out the night. He also performed this reviewer’s favorite song, from “The Shepherd’s Dog,” “Flightless Bird, American Mouth.”
All in all, it was a lovely evening of music and a fitting tribute to the album that Paste magazine has named the 4th best indie album of all time. It is also inspiring to see the National Symphony orchestra’s commitment to continue to push the boundaries of what is “orchestral” music and provide programming that makes this beautiful music and accomplished group of musicians more accessible to a myriad of audiences.
While NSO Pops collaboration with “Iron and Wine” was a one-night-only event, they have two other excellent performances scheduled in the upcoming weeks. Michael Bolton will join them for his show “The Symphony Sessions” on May 21st, and Pops principal conductor Steven Reineke will lead “50 Years Over the Rainbow: A Judy Garland Celebration,” featuring vocals from Laura Osnes, Capathia Jenkins and Jimmie Herod on June 28th and 29th.
For more information on tickets, click here.