Bon Iver, Wembley Arena, London
A venue brimming with 12,000 people does not immediately appear to be the most suitable setting for a singer/songwriter who made his name with an album created in solitude, whilst holed up in a cabin in deepest Wisconsin.
But Justin Vernon, the “author” of folk/pop sensation Bon Iver (a variation on the French for bon hiver, or ‘good winter’) has travelled a long way since releasing 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago, which won him Grammys, as well as widespread critical and public admiration.
His home (and clearly his heart) remains in America’s Copper State, but his sound has journeyed from the stripped-back, cathartic intimacy of the break-up inspired debut, and into a forest of instruments that has expanded his sonic reach for 2011’s Bon Iver, Bon Iver.
This new set up, played live with a sprawling eight-piece band, allows Vernon’s mesmeric vocals and masterfully built-up tracks to fill every inch of the cavernous London arena with cacophonous rock, country and folk motifs, whilst retaining the mighty swells and haunting silences that became his signature.
A huge cheer greets “Holocene”, made grander than its recorded counterpart with the help of two drummers and a booming brass section, which is followed by the wintry chill of “Blood Bank”, the title track from 2009’s EP, introduced by an fitful bass saxophone solo.
“I just realised we haven’t said hello to you yet,” Vernon smiles, around a quarter of the way through. He thanks the crowd profusely (the first of many such speeches) for their support, with a grace and self-deprecation that is evident throughout the set. He enjoys mischievous jokes, including discussing the prospect of taking his trousers off on stage (they’re hot, and wet, apparently).
A rousing rendition of the initially gentle “Creature Fear”, which ends with a strobe-lit flourish, is yet another highlight. But the night’s crowning glory is easily “Re: Stacks”. Having awkwardly introduced the members of his support band, Watford-based acoustic folk trio The Staves, with a mini-monologue (“life is long and friendship is good…”) that he admits is partly an attempt to chat them up, the song – gently teased out and perfectly harmonised – offers pure beauty.
There are moments when Bon Iver’s live innovation stretches to places better left alone (the heavy auto-tune on “Beth/Rest” is a little more Cher “Believe” than the charming kitsch achieved on record). But when the band returns for an encore of “Skinny Love”, “Emma” and “The Wolves (Act I &II)”, the crowd is left in raptures.
Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 This 'woman calls police to order pizza' story isn't going where you're expecting
- 2 Marijuana use by teenagers does not result in a lower IQ or worse exam results, study finds
- 3 Watch what happened when food critics were unknowingly served McDonald's
- 4 Jimmy Carr's controversial Oscar Pistorius joke goes too far at the Q Awards
- 5 NHS staff banned from drinking tea or coffee on the job because it looks like they're not working hard enough
MOBO Awards 2014: Jess Glynne hits back at 'ridiculous' criticism of nominated white artists
American Horror Story season 4, Fox - review: Silly, sensational and sensitive
The Apprentice 2014: Nurun Ahmed and Lindsay Booth fired in double elimination
MOBO Awards 2014: Sam Smith sweeps the board with four gongs
The Apprentice, episode 3 - review: Lord Sugar hacks away at the deadwood with double elimination
Of course, teenage girls need role models – but not like beauty vlogger Zoella
Cameron is warned 'no possibility' of UK reducing immigration and that bid to bring in quota on migrant workers would be illegal
Support for EU membership 'at highest level since 1991' with most Brits wanting to stay 'in'
Thousands with degenerative conditions classified as 'fit to work in future' – despite no possibility of improvement
Residents should throw a street party and mix with immigrant neighbours, councils told
Russell Brand threatened with arrest after filming outside Fox News headquarters