Iron & Wine + Half Waif @ Symphony Hall Birmingham, 13 February 2018

On a freezing Tuesday night with a near evacuation due an explosion next door at the Rep Theatre, we waited for New York based three-piece band Half Waif. Currently promoting their album Lavender the band have a chilled-out electronic feel to their music. The song structure is more complicated than your usual popular music, (so no verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus) which makes a change but is hard to follow on first listen. Enjoyable nonetheless and a stunning vocal from Nandi Rose Plunkett.

Next up was the main event — Sam Beam performing as Iron & Wine. Over the past 15 years Sam has released eight full length albums as well as several EPs, live albums and compilations as Iron & Wine. If you’ve not heard him you can expect a unique mix of folk, country and blues, and he’s often compared to Nick Drake. In fact he told us that he’d wanted to perform at the Symphony Hall since seeing Nick there a couple of years ago.

On this tour Iron & Wine is performing with a full band – Sam on lead vocals/ guitar joined by a bassist, percussionist, keys and cellist. Sam was sporting an epic full beard and wore a grey suit.

Setting the visual scene were clouds above the performers’ heads, and a backdrop which changed colour to reflect the mood of each song. We were taken through sun, storms and surreal bright colours whilst Sam drank from a glass of wine, periodically refilled by ‘Nick’ his ‘personal wine waiter’.

As you’d expect he played songs from latest album Beast Epic including ‘Claim Your Ghost’ and ‘Call it Dreaming’. However the great thing about Iron & Wine is that he performs a different set every night so you never know what’s coming next. This left us silent in anticipation through most of the show. Sam even commented how well-behaved everyone was and asked ‘Did they intimidate you on the way in?’.

On top of the ever-changing set Sam plays re-worked versions of many of his songs, giving a totally different experience from the albums. We were treated to old favourites ‘The Trapeze Swinger’ and ‘Wolves’, and in the middle of the show we got a couple of solo tracks including ‘Rabbit Will Run’ and ‘Naked as we Came’.

For sound you can never go wrong in the Symphony Hall, and there were a great range of dynamics. My highlight was bassist Sebastian Steinberger performing a quirky double bass intro on ‘Monkeys Uptown’. The cello was at times ghostly and haunting but also plucky and upbeat.

Between songs Sam becomes a quick-witted comedian who responds hilariously to shout-outs from the crowd in as little time as Jimmy Carr.

For the encore Sam’s percussionist and pianist came back sporting fake beards through which they somehow managed to sing some beautiful harmonies during ‘Boy with a coin’; a great choice to finish with its rumbling beat. The crowd agreed, giving a standing ovation.

Set List

  1. Milwaukee
  2. The trapeze swinger
  3. Last night
  4. Wolves
  5. Claim your ghost
  6. Sodom, South Georgia
  7. Someday the waves
  8. Monkeys uptown
  9. Sundown
  10. Rabbit will run
  11. Naked as we came
  12. Grace for saints and ramblers
  13. Dearest forsaken
  14. This is Alabama
  15. Bird stealing bread
  16. Call it dreaming
  17. Muddy Hymnal
  18. Gray Stables


  1. Boy with a coin


Reviewer: Chrissie Duxson

Photographer: Kylie McCormick

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