Bon Iver

There was no doubting Bon Iver’s popularity at tonight’s sold-out event, with the long queues to get in and the fantastic applause for his performance.

A strong support slot was provided by Canadian singer-songwriter, Kathleen Edwards. To Kathleen’s embarrassment, the most memorable aspect of the night was when she completely forgot the words to the second song! However, she was very honest about it and after several hilarious moments, she got back into the song. This really got the audience on her side and disaster tuned to triumph. She has a lovely clear voice and is a good musician, including playing a great instrumental passage with her violin. She was accompanied by two guitarists for most of the show, but was joined on stage by members of Bon Iver’s band for the final number, a cover of Neil Young’s ‘From Hank to Hendrix’. As a big Neil fan, I know this number well, and the interpretation was rather too slow for my liking, and the tune kind-of went into limbo.

Kathleen Edwards

While the O2 is a great venue in many ways, it is one of these places where, unless you are on balcony or central at the front, you don’t get a good view of the stage, unless you are a least six-foot- six. Also, and worse, is the noise of people talking, especially around the bar. I wonder why some of these people bother going to gigs like Bon Iver, where there are quiet and sensitive vocals and instrumental passages, and then they spend the evening just chatting and spoiling other it for people enjoying the gig. They are not true music fans. Loads of others seem to spend the evening texting on their mobiles, but at least they don’t spoil it for other people. I don’t know why they can’t just listen to the music and take in the atmosphere.

Kathleen EdwardsKathleen Edwards

Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon, has changed quite a bit since his first very quiet and sparsely instrumented, essentially solo, album. He is an artist who is difficult to categorise. He has a real stage presence, although he is plainly dressed and unpretentious, and doesn’t even appear to have combed his thinning hair! Tonight he has a massive band of superb musicians, including two drum kits, violins and brass. However, there is variety and at times Vernon is on his own on stage (performing ‘Re: Stacks’ and for once in the evening we have silence from the talkers in the audience) or dueting with Kathleen Edwards.

Bon IverBon Iver

Starting off with ‘Perth’, the show varies from heavy rock sounds to jazzy instrumental passages that remind me of albums like (Beach Boys) ‘Pet Sounds’ or (Van Morrison) ‘Astral Weeks’ in their complexity, although he doesn’t sound like either of these albums. There is a terrific amount of variety in the show, and the guy clearly has a lot of ideas and different musical arrangements. A lot of use is made of changes from loud to soft and quiet starts, with build-ups and loud crescendos. The style and arrangements vary enormously from folk, to heavy rock, jazz and even mariachi, with the trumpets.
Unless you were at the front, some of the quiet and subtle instrumental passages were unfortunately spoilt by people talking. I don’t know if the musicians on stage really noticed the distractions, but at one point Vernon had a moan about the TV screen being switched-on behind one of the bars. Quite right too – why do we need it?

Bon Iver

One of the highlights at the end of the show is the current version of ‘Skinny Love’, originally more or less a solo effort. Tonight we have a band version, which features a fantastic, but simple, arrangement with massed backing singers, drum-beat and Vernon’s guitar strumming. The encore finishes with versions of ‘For Emma’ and ‘Wolves’ and the audience troop off into the night after what seems like a semi-religious experience.

Photos and Review by John Bentley

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