Bon Iver – Bristol – Trinity Arts Centre, England – 2008-09-12

Bon Iver
Where: Bristol – Trinity Arts Centre, England.

When: 2008-09-12

Anyone who recently picked-up Bon Iver’s low-key but much-acclaimed debut LP, For Emma, Forever Ago, could have quite understandably expected Justin Vernon to have toured its wares in even more skeletal one-man arrangements. Bravely yet mercifully, Vernon appears to have little desire to perform the log-cabin-birthed album almost ‘as is.’ Instead he seeks to flesh it out, bend it into new brighter shapes and pave the way for its sequel. In fact, at this live Bristol engagement there was only one song that Vernon strummed through in solitary. The rest of the time, he was backed by his highly adaptable touring ensemble – adding luxuriant harmonies, layers of percussion, extra guitars and bass – which expanded entries from the still slender Bon Iver canon into rich and detailed mini-epics. The re-interpretative results were rarely less than transcendental, in the process making For Emma… sound like a rudimentary demo, as well as suggesting that Bon Iver’s sophomore set could easily usurp its predecessor, if the live band were to be allowed into the studio (or squeezed inside Vernon’s rustic lodge).

Whilst on disc, “Creature Fear” practically floats from the speakers, on stage it erupted into a raging My Bloody Valentine-style psyche-rock bliss-out. For “The Wolves (Act I And II)” the surprisingly gregarious Vernon even invited the audience to join-in convincingly for a steadily swelling and spine-tingling sing-along crescendo. The already gut-wrenching “Skinny Love” cut with an even-deeper emotive edge too – with the help of some clattering percussive accompaniment and a tougher lead vocal – to become the ‘definitive’ version in this writer’s sonic memory banks. Other highlights included a promising new composition – entitled “Blood Bank” – and the spellbinding grand-finale cover of Sarah Siskind’s “Lovin’s For Fools” with all the group (and members of support act Bowerbirds) huddled and hunched around one microphone to take full advantage of the crowd’s remarkably respectable quietude.

Whilst there’s a lot of misinformed nonsense at present about how musicians can (and should) only make money from touring, it is currently worth forking-out more to see Bon Iver out-on-the-road than to pay for the ‘at home’ experience.