Iron and Wine performing at the Frequency Festival 2008

Theodor W. Adorno once wrote: “Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric,” (Kulturkritik und Gesellschaft 1: p. 303). The first time I saw Iron and Wine live was in St. Jacob’s Church in Dachau in January 2008. In the extermination camp Dachau, the Nazis detained 200 000 people and killed more than 40 000. So Dachau is a place with a negative history. Therefore you can rephrase Adorno: “Is it barbaric to sing songs in Dachau?”. No matter in which way one might answer this question, the concert had a certain symbolism because fascism is the worst form of domination you can imagine, and the Catholic church is another form of domination, and there were connections between both. Iron and Wine symbolically showed the connectedness of these two forms of domination. Herbert Marcuse disagreed to Adorno’s assessment and argued that authentic art preserves the memory of the possible other world “in spite of and against” Auschwitz (The Aesthetic Dimension: p. 56). So the question then is if Iron and Wine’s music is an authentic autonomous piece of Art in Marcuse’s and Adorno’s sense.

My second encounter with Iron and Wine was today, August 15 2008, at the Frequency Festival in Salzburg. There was so much rain today, the camping ground was full of mud, walking on the grass resulted in sinking half a meter into the mud. It was worth standing in the rain for seeing Iron and Wine (I would not have stayed in the heavy rain for any of the other bands that performed today) perform mainly songs from their latest album “The Shepherd’s Dog”, which deals among other topics with the feeling of political alienation in the second Bush era. And alienation might just be the right topic for a music that expresses this feeling in such a beauty in order to create a dialectic tension of content and aesthetic form. It is this tension that lets me see Iron and Wine as a form of authentic artistic resistance that reminds as that the world could be other and different. And this works, also in a church in Dachau.

Musically the songs were performed in a more groovy and orchestral mood than half a year ago, combining American folk and reggae influences. It was a laid back stream of music, in which two times three songs were merged into one 15 minute whole.

Iron and Wine’s singer Sam Beam reminds me of Will Oldham because of his long beard. And both look like Jesus would have looked, if he had existed. In the church in Dachau, Beam stood right below a huge statue of Jesus. And although he is not the reincarnation of Jesus, Iron and Wine truly create a musical heaven on earth.

I have made videos of some of the performed songs that you can watch below. In some of the videos, you can see and hear the rain that beautifully accompanies Iron and Wine’s music.

Part 1: Woman King

Part 2: House by the Sea & Devil Never Sleeps

Part 3: White Tooth Man

Part 4: Sodom, South Georgia

Part 5: Pagan Angel and a Borrowed Car

Part 6: Upward over the Mountain

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