Show Review: Iron and Wine and Laura Mvula

I’ll rarely pass up an opportunity to catch a show at one of the greatest venues in the Bay Area–The Fox Theater–so when I saw Iron & Wine was on the calendar, I made plans to be there.

UK-based singer/pianist Laura Mvula opened the show. Mvula was new to me, and her latest release, Sing to the Moon, I’ve had on repeat since seeing her live. In short, Mvula and her band were great, and I’ll soon devote a full blog post attempting to describe her Janelle Monae-meets-chamber-music sound.

I was (and still am) a huge fan of Iron & Wine’s 2004 release, Our Endless Numbered Days, so I jumped at the chance to see Sam Beam at The Fox, who is touring in support of his latest record, Ghost on Ghost. Admittedly, I haven’t kept up with Beam much these days, but I was excited to see where the last few years had taken him.

Being familiar with the one-man, bedroom-style recording of Numbered Days, I was pretty surprised to see Beam take the stage with an onslaught of 11 additional musicians – three backup vocalists, a string trio, a horn/woodwind section, plus a bassist and drummer. This was definitely a stark departure from the Iron & Wine I was used to, but I was pleasantly surprised with how the evening unfolded.

I’m not sure if Beam just really likes Oakland or was particularly talkative on this night, but there was some pretty hilarious banter going on between songs. At one point, some drunk guy yelled out “FREE BIRD!” as they always seem to do, to which Beam responded with a few bars of humorously tender rendition of the tune. Take that, “Free Bird” guy!

Beam was also excited to play a new song that he had written about San Francisco. “It’s always fun to finally play a song about in the city you wrote it in,” he said from the stage, while those from over the bridge cheered. The crowd gave Beam & Co. their unwavering attention as the band played selections spanning the Iron & Wine catalog, from country-rock, to feel good soul, to Simon & Garfunkel-tinged folk.

Highlights of the night included a jolting saxophone outro for Ghost on Ghost opener “Caught in the Briars,” and the crowd-favorite Postal Service cover of “Such Great Heights.” My personal standout moment was a woodwind-centered rendition of the Our Endless Numbered Days track, “Passing Afternoon.”

Over the last decade or so, the music of Iron & Wine has only progressed upward and outward, making it natural that Beam would go from one-guy-with-an-acoustic-guitar to an explosive 11-piece band. While the instrumentation has become more complex, Beam’s arrangements remain as light as ever. Folk-rock, indie-folk, or whatever you care to call the genre, Sam Beam is surely leading it, and I’ll be watching to see where he takes it next.

Here's the official video for the song "Joy" off of Ghost on Ghost.

Iron & Wine play a handful of dates throughout the rest of the year, and you can learn more by going to

Tom Gilbert is a guitarist (and aspiring pedal steel player) living in the San Francisco Bay Area. When he’s not blogging for Acoustic Nation, eating Thai food or being obsessed with his dog, Tom does marketing and PR for music and audio companies with Mad Sun Marketing.

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