It’s a measure of a musician when you want to burst into tears during the fourth song. But as Justin Vernon sings ‘Flume’ in the upper register he’s so well known for, it all becomes clear: we’re in the presence of greatness.
Everything about this sold-out, captivating gig is perfect: the warm blue, black, and red washes of light; the immense, crystal clear sound pushing forward into our bellies; the hypnotic, bombastic, intimate songs of Bon Iver.
Perhaps a nine-piece band is excessive. Certainly two drummers seems unnecessary, but to their credit it’s never forced. Opener ‘Perth’ has a dynamism that runs throughout the gig, the band making stunning use of breakdowns into near silence only to sweep back with a power rarely felt at a gig.
Understandably there’s more of the recent eponymous album than For Emma, Forever Ago. But what there is of the debut is transformed by the presence of the band, ‘Creature Fear’ becoming a barnstorming blues freakout, and ‘The Wolves (Act I and II)’ a stunning participatory sing-along.
In fact Justin Vernon seems to have thrown a bit of everything into the gig—a solo number (‘Re: Stacks’); an ’80s homage, with full-on Ultravox drums (‘Beth/Rest’); and a magnanimous chance for each musician to shine (an extended sax solo is a particular highlight).
During the standing ovation before the encore I look around me and notice I’m not alone. There’s tears in them eyes—with good reason. This is the gig of the year.
Support came from Canadian Kathleen Edwards, whose haunting, sparse country is reminiscent of Mazzy Star at their spectral best. There’s a refreshing candour about this rising star—her sweary diatribes are hilarious—and her next album is released in January with tracks co-produced by Justin Vernon.