Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop at Open House Festival
I’ve grown to love the Marine Court Hotel in Bangor, Co. Down. Well, perhaps “love” is a bit much but tonight is about stripped back emotion and over-sentimentalism. The hotel stage glistens in draped fabric and fairy lights. Before long, this shimmering heat will welcome Iron and Wine’s Sam Beam and his musical accomplice Jesca Hoop. Then, the love-in will truly begin.
An already packed venue welcome Erika Wennerstrom to the stage. Open House Festival-goers are a discerning bunch. The warm applause greeting each song is testament to the quality of the night’s support.
It’s her first night on tour with Sam and Jesca. Once a punky frontwoman of a band called The Heartless Bastards, tonight it’s sobering alternative folk. It’s red wine politely sipped in hotels. It’s hints of Martha Wainwright and a little bit of Baez. We’re caught in something so emotional that Wennerstrom herself is brought to tears before the set’s out.
A crescendo of applause and whoops of delight welcomes Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop to the stage. The two look born to make music together. At ease on stage, like best friends sharing awkward jokes and generally just having fun.
With Sam on guitar and Jesca on vocals, the voices combine and if they looked born to do this, well the sound just seals the deal. There’s barely a whisper from around the sold-out room as we’re treated to an opening flurry from the ‘Love Letter For Fire’ record.
There’s a feeling we’re all friends in this together. Sam and Jesca share stories and choose each other’s solo songs. Jesca asks Sam for a rendition of Iron and Wine’s ‘Belated Promise Ring’ claiming it’s one of her favourites. He promises not to “fuck it up” and duely obliges.
The record of duets is different to the other works from both artists. Yet, intimately delivered, there are elements of both in there and the resulting tunes are familiar and warm. ‘Bright Lights and Goodbyes’, ‘One Way To Pray’, and ‘Valley Clouds’ are stunning introductions to this musical duo, showcasing the combined talents to a crowd who may only have heard one or the other.
There’s a clear admiration for each other’s craft between the two. Both talk candidly about their songwriting and give us insights into which songs they played first, recorded first, which didn’t make the cut on record and share their own personal favourites.
Sam introduces Jesca’s solo single ‘City Bird’ as a stone-cold classic. On tonight’s form, it’s hard to argue with either party about anything.
That offbeat relaxed chat continues between each stunning song. There’s talk of pre-arranged wedding ceremonies and Jesca is positively brimming with excitement over having real Irish milk and soda bread.
At the mid-point of the evening, the duo turn their hands to a well-worn country classic. The melody is pulled every which way in places. It’s gloriously weird – akin to the likes of The Flaming Lips’ Beatles efforts – but it works. If Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers had been just a little more leftfield, ‘Islands In The Stream’ could have been an epic psychedelic masterpiece.
That really could have gone either way. The melodic bravery pays off and both artists return to safer ground with two of their best known individual tunes. Sam treats the Bangor crowd to the Iron and Wine single ‘Resurrection Fern’ before Jesca delivers a confident ‘Hunting My Dress’.
Both artists are at the top of their game. They might play it down and talk about their mistakes or breaths snuck in long notes. They hint that they only know what sounds good. But when it all sounds this good, it’s hard to find any flaw in their logic.
As the night draws on we’re promised “one more wee one”. ‘Sailor To The Siren’ should round off the evening’s entertainment. There’s a well deserved standing ovation and cries for more.
This show has been daring, experimental in places, blurring the lines between genres and not once resting on the laurels of the traditional singer-songwriter. There’s a danger out there, that one day, everyone referred to as a troubadour may end a set with ‘Freebird’ or ‘Wagon Wheel’. But if you’ve got the talent of Sam Beam and Jesca Hoop, why not just grab that last glass of wine and leave us all with the sweet refrains of The Eurythmics!