Along with opener Meshell Ndegeocello, the virtuosos sharing the bill on the delayed ‘Outside Problems’ tour enchanted a sold-out Meijer Gardens crowd on Friday. The review and photo gallery.
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Long delayed but well worth the wait, the “Outside Problems” tour — the brainchild of singer-songwriters Andrew Bird and Sam Beam (aka Iron & Wine) — swept into Grand Rapids Friday evening to (separately and collectively) charm a packed Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park amphitheater.
Beam and Bird, who each rose to a fair level of indie/folk/singer-songwriter prominence in the early aughts, first planned to take their double-bill tour on the road in 2020, hitting mostly outdoor venues across the country. For obvious reasons, those plans were delayed.
To the delight and good fortune of an eager West Michigan crowd, the postponed tour re-ignited earlier this summer.
While the two may seem something of an odd pair — Bird is all about big sound and lots of unusual instrumentation, while Beam’s Iron & Wine is a stripped-down affair — the chemistry/alchemy Friday evening was undeniable. Each artist offered up strong sets separate from one another, but the real magic happened when they shared the stage for roughly half a dozen songs.
Singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello kicked off a long evening of high-caliber musicality with a gorgeous, if brief, set of 25 or so minutes. Opening with an ethereal cover of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” and offering up a handful of songs in between, she departed the stage with a simple, spoken reminder: “Be kind to one another; life is short.”
Beam followed with a 45-minute solo set of acoustic indie folk (“Woman King,” “Rabbit Will Run,” “Naked As We Came,” among the tracks) sprinkled with comedic observations, including plenty of jabs at local politics.
West Michigan can be a stubbornly (some might say, frustratingly) self-serious place, resistant to even the most mild of criticisms. So it was interesting to watch folks react to Beam’s gentle (but pretty spot-on) digs at U.S. Rep. Peter Meijer, recently defeated in the August primaries, as well as former president Gerald R. Ford and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Other witticisms were at Beams’ own expense” “Here’s another feel-good song of the year from the Iron & Wine grab-bag.” Or in praise of his tour counterpart: “Andrew’s gonna whistle his way into your hearts.”
IMPRESSIVE TEAMWORK AND ‘WHISTLE-FORWARD’ MUSIC
Indeed, Bird, as he seems destined to do, easily waltzed his way into the crowd’s favor as he whistled, fiddled, strummed and sang his way through roughly 90 minutes of a headlining showcase that saw him sharing the spotlight for a decent portion of time with Beam.
The magnificent “Three White Horses” (Bird) and the hopelessly romantic “Flightless Bird, American Mouth” (Iron & Wine, a popular wedding tune) were the pair’s highlights, but, truly, all of their teamwork was well-executed and well-received.
Other strong points for Bird and his band were the whistle-forward “Sisyphus,” the newer track “Lone Didion” (from “Inside Problems,” released earlier this summer) and almost-show-closer “Pulaski at Night.”
Either artist easily could’ve carried the spotlight alone, but together, they were that much stronger and appreciated. Here’s hoping they’ll give this another go next summer.
Next up in the Meijer Gardens’ Fifth Third Bank Summer Concerts series: The sold-out The Dead South with Tejon Street Corner Thieves show at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 10.
PHOTO GALLERY: Andrew Bird, Iron & Wine, Meshell Ndegeocello at Meijer Gardens
Photos by Jamie Geysbeek