Bon Iver’s recorded material is often gentle, full of heart and a great soundtrack for rumination. The feelings their songs embody are as tangible as the instruments that illustrate them. With undeniable folk sensibilities, the 2008 album ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ arose out of the ashes of a failed relationship, and is laden with the sounds of isolation – and recovery. The recent self-titled album continued in this vein resulting in deserved critical acclaim, firmly placing the band at the forefront of the folk genre. Both albums touch emotions that other bands merely aspire to; with a musicality that redefines what real music should be.
The humble sounds of the albums are utterly transformed when performed live. With the drums reverberating around your ribcage an alchemical reaction occurs, resulting only in goose-bumps and euphoria. The intricate wall of sound coming from the stage forces you to step into the fabric of the tracks, intensifying them in a way that’s entirely unexpected.
Whenever front man Justin Vernon addressed the crowd, he was drowned out by screams and applause. Vernon’s voice was simultaneously gruff in the lower register, and ethereal for the topnotes paradoxically providing both power and vulnerability. With nine musicians on stage and countless instruments, this was less of a gig and more a celebration of music. The resulting sound often strayed into the orchestral, but was kept contemporary through delicate use of synths and effects pedals.
‘The Wolves (Act I and II)’ prompted an awe inspiring moment, with the audience’s rendition of hook “what might have been lost” growing to the magnitude of a football chant. “Skinny Love” also induced (reduced) the crowd into an emotionally charged sing-along – with grown men to be seen on the brink of tears. Bon Iver are no average band, so any live performance was always going to be an incredible event. What resulted, however, surpassed all expectations.