Tickets for the whole Bon Iver tour sold out so quickly, that I felt privileged to have even had a ticket with my name on it. I had high expectations for the night because I am what you could call, a die-hard Bon Iver fan.
Bon Iver hail from Wisconsin in Northern America, and were touring for the first time since 2009. Their debut album, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ (February 2008) was followed by self titled ‘Bon Iver’, released in June 2011. Many have the impression that Bon Iver consists solely of Justin Vernon, the front man of the band, however this is certainly not true. The band also includes Sean Carey on drums, vocals and piano, Michael Noyce on vocals, baritone guitar and guitar and Matthew McCaughan on bass, drums and vocals. For the tour, Bon Iver brought in five musicians to play with them, creating a band of nine humble, yet talented multi-instrumentalists so caught up in their music that it proved fascinating to watch.
Kathleen Edwards was the support act for the show. Fairly unknown to a British audience, the country western influenced singer appeared to be very charming and talented. Edwards appeared on stage with Bon Iver later in the show for a duet of one of her songs, which I found a little unexciting compared to the rest of the evening.
Bon Iver appeared on stage, beginning with ‘Perth’ and from the first line, the audience was totally enraptured. For me, simply seeing Justin Vernon (the lead singer), ‘in the flesh’, was overwhelming. The man has so much musical talent that it is almost frightening to see what he will do next. Following Perth was Minnesota WI, Holocene and Towers from the newest album. Flume was the first song played from ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’, where hearing Vernon’s fragile vocals brought back memories of endless listening to the debut album. In Hinnom TX, it was interesting to see Vernon sing in his natural and deep baritone, certainly different to the falsetto which he is known for on ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’. It is not just Vernon’s talented song writing, but also his unusually powerful voice with such a range, which should be commended. ‘Re: Stacks’ involved Vernon singing alone with his microphone and guitar, his voice so prominent that the crowd was reduced to the odd whisper. In ‘The Wolves’, the crowd sang the lyrics ‘what might’ve been lost’’ together, gradually growing from a whisper to a powerful chant which echoed around the o2 academy, an experience in itself.
The intricate nature of Bon Iver’s music was even more noticeable when played live, presented through the way that they combine several elements of sound. There were not one, but two drummers both working together; one used his hands as drumsticks and one of the two saxophonists was tapping on his saxophone with his hands. It is simply incredible to watch a band work in unison to create such beautiful, well-crafted music. Listening to such music makes me question why I bother to listen to some bands, who create such predictable music that it is painful to listen to.
Known for his quiet and self-contained character, JustinVernon was as reluctant as you would expect throughout the night, talking minimally in between songs. However, when he did speak he was humorous, even mentioning a song by the Indigo Girls called ‘Leeds’, a band which he claimed to be one of his favourites during his teenage years.
I have to say that the encore was nothing but predictable, seeing as both Skinny Love and For Emma, popular tracks on ‘For Emma, Forever Ago, had not yet been played. But that didn’t mean that they were not as incredible as I had anticipated. Seeing the band play Skinny Love, a song loved by so many, only metres away from me, was something which I will never be able to forget.
It was one of the most incredible moments of my life, one which I want to relive forever and ever. No review will ever do it the justice that it deserves.
By Grace Marsh