I think it's easy, when listening to Bon Iver's
two albums For Emma, Forever Ago
and Bon Iver
, to think of it all as a solo artist's backwoods musings. That one guy, Justin Vernon, crooned all those love/out-of-love songs in a broken down cabin in rural Wisconsin by himself. Which is why I recommend seeing Bon Iver live. For all but one song last night at Radio City Music Hall, Justin Vernon was surrounded by eight bandmembers. Bon Iver is not an almost-French-sounding singer-songwriter, it is a band.
Starting with the Bon Iver
-opening "Perth," Bon Iver took serious control of the New York City stage, reverberating the historic walls and their perfect acoustics. For the people who criticize Bon Iver for being too sleepy (SNL, anyone?), the band was flush with energy, turning several quiet standards -- "Blood Bank" and "Creature Fear" -- into amped up, jammed out rock songs. Justin Vernon spent a good deal of time on his knees, either tinkering with his guitar pedals or emoting exasperatedly. Most of the songs last night were different, sometimes better, than their album incarnations. After ripping off one of the more dynamic cuts off of Bon Iver
, "Calgary," the band seamlessly launched into the set closer, "Beth/Rest," a song that absolutely benefits from the two drummers Bon Iver was sporting. The attentive, polite crowd of Radio City arose for a standing ovation.
For the encore Bon Iver kicked it old school, sending the audience off with "Skinny Love" (Vernon joked, "Sing along if you know it") and "For Emma." Vernon, in his standard untucked shirt and tie, with the rest of his band lined up on the stage and bowed for a final time -- almost literally, after Saturday, the band is going on an indefinite hiatus. The set flew by, and yet there were so many highlights -- the shredding of "Perth," the accapella second verse of "Towers," the quiet beauty of "Re: Stacks." Like I said, I recommend seeing Bon Iver live.