Bon Iver, Hyde Park, London

4.00

The back story that accompanied Bon Iver's debut album For Emma, Forever Ago has already made the 28-year-old star from Wisconsin a legend in contemporary folk-rock. After a relationship breakdown, Justin Vernon retreated to his father's log cabin in wintry Wisconsin for three months, killing deer to feed himself, and in seclusion wrote the record that topped critics' lists of albums of last year.

Like its secluded conception, it's an album of loneliness, to be listened to alone with your thoughts. It was certainly not created for thousands of fans to sing along to in Hyde Park. But on one of the hottest days of the year and the second evening of the outdoor concert series, the Serpentine Sessions, an intimate space suited to the mini folk-rock festival it is hosting, has been set up. Outside the main tent on another smaller stage, rising star Beth Jeans Houghton, a 19-year-old from Newcastle, plays trumpet-lifted folk songs. Best of all is the selection of another of folk's fastest-rising talents, Alela Diane, watched by Bon Iver from the wings. Fingers gliding over acoustic guitar, joined by her father on mandolin and electric guitar, "White as Diamonds" from her recent beguiling album, To Be Still, shimmers in a short set that points to an expansive future.

For the fans gathered here today, it is a rare sighting of Bon Iver. Those expecting a man looking like he's emerged from the wilderness are half right. While Vernon's beard is in check, his wispy golden hair has certainly grown and sprouts up – and outwards. When he plays the most gut-wrenching of his songs of heartbreak, the psychedelic tendencies of his music are brought to the fore. "Bracket, WI", the song he contributed to Aaron and Bryce Dressner of the National's compilation album Dark Was the Night, with the aid of three bandmates, builds up eerie organ effects on synth and guitar in the vein of "It's A Wonderful Life"-era Sparklehorse. And in "Blood Bank", the title track of the eponymous EP released in January, there's something elemental – wild, even – in his impassioned strumming, hunched over his electric guitar, that removes it from any comparisons to early Coldplay. It's one of the many moments he sets spines tingling.

If he breaks hearts in "Skinny Love", his falsetto vocal over his skipping guitar, he breaks hearts again in "Flume", his voice telling of the ache of loneliness, but also in "For Emma", and in "Re: Stacks", which he plays solo, seated with just his acoustic guitar for accompaniment. As proof of the reverence that is paid to Bon Iver, a whoop is extraordinarily shushed by another devoted fan.

When he's not playing a wild, frenetic guitar part, Vernon speaks with the coolness of a young rock star, albeit an overly humble one. "It's been an unbelievable couple of years for us. We first played a place here called the Social to about 75 people and there were only supposed to be 40. Now everybody is here to see our show – this tent is filled up – and I can't tell you how much it means, so thank you."

If the album and EP seemed hard to recreate live, Vernon does a stellar job of making it intimate for tonight's crowd. It helps that the atmosphere is trapped into the tent, and he doesn't have a hard task convincing the crowd to sing along to the refrain in "The Wolves" – "What might have been lost" – and making the most of the tent's natural amplification. An encore of country-rock band Jayhawks' "Tampa to Tulsa" is intimate, the four band members forming a cluster in the centre of the stage, Vernon's distinct vocals riding over his bassist's.

If there's a minor quibble, it's that the percussion, presumably to help the show's live momentum, occasionally drowns out Vernon's guitar, especially the melody of final song "Creature Fear". But this song's psychedelic crescendo-ing ending, rather than alienating the crowd, just leaves us even more in awe.

Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Pratt stars in Guardians of the Galaxy
film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Arts and Entertainment
Panic! In The Disco's Brendon Urie performs on stage

music
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Radio 4's Today programme host Evan Davis has been announced as the new face of Newsnight

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams performing on the Main Stage at the Wireless Festival in Finsbury Park, north London

music
Arts and Entertainment
Carrie Mathison returns to the field in the fourth season of Showtime's Homeland

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Crowds soak up the atmosphere at Latitude Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Meyne Wyatt and Caren Pistorus arrive for the AACTA Aawrds in Sydney, Australia

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rick Astley's original music video for 'Never Gonna Give You Up' has been removed from YouTube

music
Arts and Entertainment
Quentin Blake's 'Artists on the beach'

Artists unveils new exhibition inspired by Hastings beach

art
Arts and Entertainment
MusicFans were left disappointed after technical issues
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

    The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

    What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
    Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

    Finding the names for America’s shame

    The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
    Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

    Inside a church for Born Again Christians

    As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
    Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

    Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
    Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

    Incredible survival story of David Tovey

    Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little