Iron & Wine floats through San Francisco

Mark Unger/Staff

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Clouds glowed gently above as Sam Beam of Iron & Wine started his set off with the longest song off any of his albums, “The Trapeze Swinger.” A bold choice, to be sure — but this didn’t phase the crowd at the Warfield on Oct. 21, which swayed to the rambling song and cheered its approval.

This “Beast Epic” tour is for Iron & Wine’s latest album, a triumphant return to the band’s roots. While some album tours consist of only new tracks, Iron & Wine instead delivered at least one tune from nearly every album, interspersing the well-known and loved with the recent and unfamiliar.

The simplistic set design, along with the huge fluffy clouds hung from the ceiling above the stage, added an otherworldly ambience to the largely folksy music. The colorful lights on the stage behind the musicians as well turned the performance from something familiar to something almost dreamlike — while lead singer Beam was mostly lit up, the band behind him was mostly in shadow, forcing Beam to the forefront of the audience’s attention and into the literal limelight.

Beam was chatty throughout the show, telling fans who yelled their love that he loved them back, sipping his glass of red wine and adding side comments throughout the set, but especially during his 11-minute acoustic rendition of “Lovers’ Revolution.” At one point, he paused for the audience to sing the words to him, and when only a few did, Beam replied, “Well, I guess it is my fucking job to sing to you, not the other way around!”

Every song in the show was different from how it sounded in the album — something few artists can do successfully. Songs were slowed down, instruments were taken away, Beam sang bottom harmonies while his supporting singers sang the melody softly in the background. It made it challenging for those in the audience to really sing along, but it also gave them a chance to hear familiar songs reimagined by their creator. Though this may have upset album purists, it displayed Beam’s artistry and ability to adapt songs to the moment, not letting them become archives of feelings past.

The concert was a surreal, thoughtful affair. The crowd was enthusiastic, with Beam professing his love for the Bay Area throughout the performance, and the band members onstage seemed to enjoy themselves as much as their audience did. The musicians behind Beam were incredibly talented as well, if a little overshadowed by Beam’s charisma, with the women on piano and drums singing backup and the two men playing cello and upright bass. And while the audience may have forgotten them sometimes, Beam was eager to grin and chat with his band between songs.

And little details didn’t go unnoticed by the supporting band, with signature Iron & Wine bells being pulled out all through the show and plucked cello strings heightening Beam’s classic acoustic guitar.

While concerts in large music halls can sometimes seem cold or impersonal, this show never felt like anything other than warm and inviting. Iron & Wine’s sound enveloped the audience with simple, beautiful melodies, some haunting and others full of love.

This was, however, a show for fans. Songs featured on movie soundtracks and in popular media (think “Flightless Bird, American Mouth”) were skipped in favor of the older songs longtime fans of the band would want to hear. The show didn’t feel like it was trying to pander to new audiences and made the event feel like a repayment for the love long-given.

Every aspect of the concert was meant to endear the audience to the band, more than they already were, and the music, people and set design succeeded. The show felt like it could have been just as easily performed in a backyard as it was in a grand theater in the middle of San Francisco. Sam Beam made old songs new and new songs welcome additions, leaving the audience with the warmth of the music long after the sound was gone.

Contact Sydney Rodosevich at [email protected].