Bon Iver, Hammersmith Apollo, London
Boom time for the mountain men as they reach new heights
From the over-chronicled cabin in the Wisconsin wilderness to the booming home of Michael McIntyre and blockbusting Brit comedy, it's already been quite a journey for Justin Vernon and the other members of Bon Iver.
We're a long way from cold mountain music these days – the nine-piece Bon Iver rolling thunder revue don't half make some noise. There are even Top of the Pops-style screams as they enter the stage to play a thunderous version of "Perth", the opener to the band's expansive self-titled second LP.
It's quite a unit that Vernon and co have assembled, the four band members are joined by five other musicians and, despite much of the group's work being delicate, fill the whole place up with horns, percussion, vocal sampler and two thunderous sets of drums. There's even a human beatbox at one point.
They thrive on the live arrangement's stunning use of silence quickly followed by thunderous bursts of sound – something that fellow quiet-band-turned live superstars, Elbow have also mastered. On tracks like "Hinnom, TX", tiny flecks of digital sound amble around the auditorium for what seems like minutes before WHOOMPH, all nine combine to blow the roof off.
This does, however, give the more giddy elements of the audience chance to fill quiet spaces with shouts of "I love your beard!" and "play 'Skinny Love'!". The latter is especially annoying when the band's interpretation of tracks from Bon Iver are so good. When the most famous track from For Emma, Forever Ago is played, at the start of the encore, it's worth the heckler's wait. It sees a bestooled Vernon surrounded by his bandmates, who stomp – Appalachian Trail-style – clap and holler along. It's a tremendous reading of a song of which they must be sick to the back teeth.
There's a cute cover of "Who Is It" from Björk's Medúlla too, but it's Vernon's recent collaborations whose influence is felt in the orchestration of the show. The sonic power of "Lisbon" – drenched with thudding drums and flickering red lights smacks of Kanye West (with whom Vernon worked on a version on Bon Iver's "Woods"). And even more prominently there's Gayngs, the soft-rock supergroup featuring three members of Bon Iver. "Beth/Rest" could have come straight from Gayngs' Prince-influenced LP. The purple lights covering the auditorium as the band swagger through it make that point clear, too.
This wasn't a perfect concert (Vernon's perma-falsetto can grate after a while) but it did feel like a moment when a well-regarded band proved that they could make the step up to being a great one.
About half way through the set, the singer joked about the band's lack of a "deep discog", but on this trajectory you wouldn't doubt their ability to make that remote little mountain cabin seem like an further distant memory.
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