The first time I saw Bon Iver was at 2pm in the afternoon at All Tomorrow’s Parties in Camber Sands (the South of England) in 2008. It was a week before ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ was fully released (it was independently released previously). There was already a good deal of hype about him, and the reviews of the album were very positive and everyone loved the story of the log cabin, but there was still only a hundred or so people sitting around the venue to hear him play. It was a lovely set, and I thought he was a name for the future, but the real question is how did it come to this? The O2 pretty much full less that four years later. Where are the endless dates in Whelans and the Sugar club, the eventual movement on to Vicar Street or the Olympia and eventually the big step on to Stadia. Has he paid his dues? Does it matter?
The Staves played back up on the night, and the three piece from Watford won more than a few hearts and minds on the occasion. Their harmonies were exquisite, and they just seems so nice and normal about it all! Pleasant and simple guitar folk music, like what Bon Iver were doing four years previous. The Staves are back to play Whelans in a few weeks time, and I’d imagine more than a few from last nights show will be there.
Bon Iver came on stage around 9.15 to a warm welcome. They have now evolved into a nine piece band, with all members playing various instruments, but generally three on guitars/ vocals, two on percussion and four on various brass instruments including Colin Stetson on sax (soon to play Twisted Pepper). The sound was full, booming on occasion, and changed the songs form his first album into new animals. The introduction of the synthesiser is not hugely welcome in my opinion, and makes them sound like a lot of bands at the moment, as the throw back 80’s sound is hugely popular.
For re: Stacks the stage cleared and left Justin on stage by himself before he welcomed the Staves back. They sang backing harmonies on the song, and even a verse, and it was simple and quite wonderful. It reminded me of Bon Iver’s earlier incarnation, stripped and vulnerable and quite lovely. Whether a full night of such music would have worked in a venue the size of the O2 is debatable, and in truth it’s a good thing that he hasn’t just released the same album again. He’s moved on, and so has his sound. This is quite a different band from a few years ago in sound and in numbers. I think I preferred their earlier incarnation, but the brass section and powerful drum sound do have their own attraction, and he will always have that wonderful voice.
The set was just under two hours and featured most of the new album and a good splash of his first. There was even room for a Bjork cover in ‘Who is it’. This was the last night of the tour, and we were treated to a couple of encores for the occasion. They finished with the same song that they have on every occasion I’ve seen them, The Wolves and it was as impressive as ever!
Below: “Who Is It” (Bjork Cover) Bon Iver Live @ The Riverside – Milwaukee, WI – 07/22/11