Artist: Bon Iver
Venue: 02 Academy, Birmingham, UK
Date: 9th November 2011
It would seem that the world is Bon Iver’s oyster, after returning with their sophomore self titled album earlier this year. With critical acclaim, it is now time for Justin Vernon’s project to win hearts with their live performance. Not so much the attempt at winning hearts, more the feeling that tonight’s gig may have prompted declarations of undying love for Bon Iver. Yes, it was that good.
As the nine piece stroll onto the stage (yes nine, who would have thought the intimate stylings of Bon Iver would need nine musicians and most of them playing multiple instruments?!) they swiftly launch into ‘Perth’ the opening track on the second LP.There is no going back, you get the feeling something special is about to happen. As the soothing opening chords resonate around the cavernous 02 Academy, they lead the way for Vernon’s distinctive soulful falsetto and the tempo builds wonderfully for the dual drummers to rally home the tracks thunderous crescendo. ‘Perth’ is a thrilling example of how all nine musicians combine to create a multi layered song built upon military drumming, brass and harmonised vocals. After ‘Perth’ the band glide gently into ‘Minnesota, WI’ which carries a certain celestial quality, as Vernon’s velvet croon skips around trembling guitar lines and brass stabs, which then morphs into a falsetto of ‘Never gonna break or fall apart’.
Bon Iver’s support act, Kathleen Edwards promised the sold out crowd, that Bon Iver would melt their faces off tonight. Indeed, what was surprising with tonight’s show is how the dynamics from Bon Iver’s recorded output are all enhanced in the live arena. Not so much an exercise of face melting, more the practise in warming your heart. Either way, Bon Iver proved tonight that they are not a band built upon timid foundations as title track from the Blood Bank EP will attest. The band, bathed in demonic red light,rattled through this upbeat track with a surprising snarl and bite not normally associated with Bon Iver’s more low key moments. This isn’t to say the low key moments are ignored during tonight’s show. ‘Re:Stacks’ sees Vernon perform solo to the audience with just an acoustic guitar and his sublime vocal delivery.
Tonight’s main set was brought to a close by ‘Skinny Love’ which drew a rapturous responsefrom this sell out crowd. Arguably Bon Iver’s most recognised song was transformed from a shy,intimate number to a soaring, skyscraping song built upon gang vocals and synchronised handclaps. A fitting end to a stunning set which saw band and audience unite in spine tingling sing a long. Modestly, Bon Iver departs from the stage, only to then return and bringing proceedings to a close with ‘The Wolves (Act I and II). Before launching into the closing track Vernon addresses the crowd to help the nine piece on vocal duties, instructing everyone to calmly sing ‘I might have been lost’ to then get louder and louder and then to ‘lose their shit’.
Shit was lost, voices were bellowed, hearts were stolen, smiles were cracked, and tears were shed. Bon Iver, in Birmingham on a Wednesday night magic happened. I salute you.
Words and Thoughts of Adam Williams
Photography by Naomi Abbs