After one listen to Bon Iver’s most recent self-titled album last Summer, it was quickly apparent that Justin Vernon had aspirations for being known for more than the lonely solitude of For Emma, Forever Ago. In the early days when Vernon began performing mostly solo, he passed lyric sheets to fans to help sing, but Grammy award winning album Bon Iver needed more than one man and a guitar to translate the expansive compositions in a live setting.
The Encore Park stage was filled with eight other performers and nearly all played a multitude of instruments. From french horn to violin and bass guitar, talent was everywhere. The show triumphantly began with “Perth” which was punctuated by dueling drummers and multiple horns. Vernon himself in a wrinkled cream-sickle button up swapped a variety of guitars, manned an electric organ and frequently crawled or tapped his bare feet on multiple pedals with a clear vision of the sound he wanted. Vernon’s vocals displayed a varied range throughout the night as well. The twinkling keys of “Minnesota, WI” included light use of a vocoder, while Vernon displayed a warbled falsetto on slow-burner “Flume” and a languid rendition of “Holocene”.
Aside from the vast number of band members the stage was filled with radiating lights. Steel above the stage was swathe in burnt brown material that after sunset acted as an illuminated canvas for the variety of bright backdrops. Saxophonist and touring member of Arcade Fire Colin Stetson stood out with a bass sax solo that expertly segued into “Blood Bank”. The uptempo and reverb heavy rendition was particularly poignant with the entire stage appropriately illuminated in crimson. Later, lighted poles at the base of the stage glowed as the piano chords set the tone for “Wash”, which Vernon introduced as “a song about surviving Winters in a bitter cold place”. Synth heavy album highlight “Beth/Rest” had the stage cast in a hazy blue and purple hue that matched the under the sea-like vocoder effects and exultant tone.
Vernon’s not so subtle Midwestern dialect charmed throughout the night as he engaged with the crowd between songs. His banter was light yet comical remarking “thanks dudes” and “thanks for listening” multiple times. “Skinny Love” kicked off a crowd sing-along as the band confidently gave the fan favorite an impressive alt country swing. Vernon’s humbleness from his early achievements seemed much more genuine than is often mocked in the press and Saturday Night Live. With such a commanding performance, Bon Iver should realize his continued success isn’t a fluke.
Bon Iver set list
The Stars in His Head (Colin Stetson sax solo)