On the third night of a four-night stint at Radio City Music Hall, Bon Iver sauntered on stage in front of an almost sold out crowd, with frontman Justin Vernon only exclaiming a quick, “Cool!” before bursting into “Perth,” the first track of what would be a mind-blowing set.
The eight-piece band, comprising strings, horns, keys and auxiliary percussion among others, played through all of its most recent album, Bon Iver, a couple of tracks from the Blood Bank EP and only one For Emma, Forever Ago track in the main set (“Creature Fear”).
The stage was laden with lights on top of pegs that more or less fenced in each section of the band and were reminiscent of the candelabra setup in the lair in Phantom Of The Opera. Three torn sections of a canvas hung over head, on which images were projected throughout the entire show, sometimes even leaking onto the walls of the epic venue. Even though the show was not lacking in sporadic illumination and mood lighting, overall it was quite dark, which occasionally made it hard to see the rest of the band.
Bon Iver, and Vernon specifically, is not a band that I associate a specific personality with, so it was all the more surprising and wonderful to hear Vernon chat on stage, cracking jokes and responding to ridiculously random shouts from the audience. “This song is called ‘Fraggle Castle,'” joked Vernon as he messed around on his synth. “What do you think? Is it a hit?” There is an endearing amount of casualness that Vernon creates with his down-home charm that made everything just a bit more relaxed.
The standout moment of the night was the intimate performance of “Woods” off of Blood Bank. Vernon took the stage solo with a single spot illuminating him as he looped his vocals and created a five-part harmony with himself. Even his silence felt impeccable—the handful of people yelling in the audience quieted down, allowing stereo-Vernon to reverberate through all of Radio City unobstructed.
A few songs later and the main set was finished, but Bon Iver humbly and quickly returned for its encore, with the standing ovation from the last song still intact. He prefaced “The Wolves (Act I And II)” by asking the audience to sing the lyrics, “What might have been lost,” as if we weren’t going to do that anyway. “OK, that sounded like 10 people were singing,” laughed Vernon after a quick practice run. “The lights are going to be off, no one will see you, so just sing, goddammit!” And sing we did, as they launched into that overwhelming crowd favorite for the second of three additional songs.
Another standing-ovation followed, and all of Bon Iver stood at the edge of the stage, bowed and waved. The band left the third crowd of the week with an extremely satisfied, warm and fuzzy feeling to hold it over until the next time Bon Iver rolls into town, which, as he mentioned during the show, probably won’t be any time soon.
Bon Iver Setlist:
Minnesota, WI
Creature Fear
Hinnom, TX
Brackett, WI
Blood Bank
Lisbon, OH
Skinny Love
The Wolves (Act I and II)
For Emma