Next up from SceneNotHerd’s very own music blogger, Emma Carroll, a review of Bon Iver’s gig in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.
This time last year, I was lucky enough to be sitting just a few rows from the Grand Canal Theatre stage, in total awe of my absolute favourite band. I finished my review of that show with the lines: “I waited almost half a year for this concert and it was most definitely worth every second of the wait. Now I’m just waiting for them to come back again.”
Bon Iver have come a long way since their first gig here in Ireland – and even further from the sound of the For Emma album recorded by a lone Justin Vernon in an isolated cabin in the woods of Wisconsin. For Emma, Forever Ago captured the sound of a broken heart and failed attempt to ‘make it’ with former band, DeYarmond Edison, but also snared the hearts of many dedicated listeners, forming an almost cult-like following of devoted fans.
In 2009, Bon Iver played a sell out show in Tripod in Dublin as a three-piece semi-acoustic band. Before the show, the audience were asked to maintain silence, due to the delicate style of Vernon’s music. This is a quite a contrast to the comments made before The Grand Canal Theatre show, when they joked that ‘anyone who came for a quiet gig tonight should leave.’ True to this statement , the night was anything but quiet. This time, the group of eight performers filled the stage; and from the initial haze and blur, introduced the show with with ‘Perth’. The sound they produce is a definite evolution from their first album; the multi-tracked reverberated vocals that made For Emma unique are now combined with layers of brass, strings and percussive instruments.
Last night, Bon Iver opened their show at the O2 with the same sound filling the whole theatre. Moving through the night, there are contrasts between heavily instrumented tracks second album and stripped down versions of songs like ‘Beach Baby’ from the Blood Bank EP, accompanied by two violins.
Violinist Rob Moose (The National) is now touring with the group, along with original group members Mike Noyce, a former guitar student of Vernon’s, and Sean Carey, who returned to tour with Bon Iver after releasing a solo album. The show also features three brass instrument players and another percussionist, Reggie Pace – my personal favourite! Not only did he beatbox during the cover of Björks’ Who is it?, and play the triangle (who doesn’t love the triangle player?!) and used some other unusual percussive techniques – the song Towers for example, held a steady rhythm, maintained by a constant click on muted trumpet keys, to create a train-track like effect.
It must be said though, that despite the crew of extraordinary musicians on tour with him, frontman Justin Vernon still captivated the audience and owned the stage. Moving effortlessly from his deep, gravelly voice to the eerie falsetto that he is so well known for. A definite highlight of the night was Re:Stacks, quiet and chillingly beautiful – alone on stage with support act The Staves, a trio of angelic voices that blended with perfectly Vernon’s, hitting notes that can only be described as spine tingling.
Far from predictable, Holocene, intricate and haunting, was followed by the loudest and most impressive song of the night – Blood Bank took the crowd by surprise as it emerged from a heavily textured intro that could have lead anywhere. A true show stopper, Vernon ended the song on his knees, center stage – surrounded by heavy red lighting, intense percussion and distorted guitars. From the moment Vernon picked up that guitar always used to play Skinny Love, it was, of
course, was another favourite of the night; with heavy rhythm and the whole band singing harmonies over the lone guitar.
Unfortunately, the band have announced hiatus for the foreseeable future, which only made the evening more emotional. With that in mind, the rendition of For Emma was the perfect end to show and to the tour, considering that For Emma, Forever Ago was where it all began.
All in all, the evening was breathtaking, to say the least. A perfect balance of old and new; soft acoustic songs and loud, intense performances. Bon Iver play music like it was meant to be – beautiful, experimental and passionate.
I thought I may have been over enthusiastic or just ridiculously biased in writing this review, because I do adore Bon Iver to the point that I teared up during Blood Bank last night, but to be honest, I don’t think I’m too far wrong in saying that this was an absolutely incredible show. Upon arriving home, the entire Faceebook newsfeed was filled a consensus of exclamations and declarations of love for the band:
“Unreal! Best gig I’ve been to”
“Undying love for this band, what a night. Epic.”