Let’s skip the preamble of tickets for this gig being the proverbial gold dust and get right down to it. Bon Iver, or to be more specific, Justin Vernon, is no longer the underground troubadour you fell in love with three years ago. Depending on how precious you are, that might upset you, but artists, or the best ones anyway, evolve. Yes, there are plenty of: “He used to be much better”-style moans overheard while exiting the luxurious confines of the Grand Canal Theatre. No matter. While in the long run the isolated beauty of For Emma, Forever Ago may well represent an utterly unique snapshot in time, the barbs levelled by the painfully hip at 2011-model Bon Iver are really quite redundant.
The gig is exceptional. Bathed in blue light during the resplendent ‘Holocene’, Vernon’s presence really hits home. He stands atop a Persian rug; itself adorned with various effects pedals, his band a vivid gallery in the background, the image somehow massive and miniature all at once. The man at the centre of such wonder may insist that he is “not magnificent” but the reality is an entirely different matter.
The understated ‘Minnesota, WI’, ‘Perth’ and ‘Towers’ cast an almost unearthly spell. Then – following the deathly quiet that underscores a haunting solo take of ‘Re: Stacks’ – the wonderful ‘Calgary’ shifts the mood in the most intimate way. Tonight, the hush of the crowd is its own instrument, adding a cult-like atmosphere to proceedings. To wit, ‘Flume’, a song that seems to get bigger each time you hear it, threatening to swallow the theatre whole. The huge build and subsequent calm of ‘Blood Bank’, meanwhile, touches on the finest aspects of post-rock. Elsewhere, the full power of Vernon’s band is felt as his two drummers combine to create a stunning mirror-effect during the prolonged finale to ‘Creature Fear’. As expected, ‘Skinny Love’ closes things out. What else could? As Vernon sits down with his guitar, six of his cohorts line up behind him, lending hand-claps and backing vocals. As with everything Bon Iver does, it’s the smallest details that count.
Can Bon Iver’s music translate to the inevitable outdoor spectacular? We’ll see. But on the strength of this performance it would be foolish to assume otherwise.
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