Hold on to Bon Iver’s spellbinding magic – live review

For the final show in their eight-day residency at the Eventim Apollo in London, Bon Iver choose to open with “Woods”. Taken from the 2009 EP Blood Bank and most famously sampled on Kanye West’s “Lost in the World”, it’s a bold and fitting move to perform an a capella anthem from an in-between era to kick off such an evening.

Rumours of intervals, interruptions and integral album coverage from earlier in the week are soon tempered with a kaleidoscopic set, covering moods and skill from every chapter of Bon Iver’s career.

Facing a vast sea of plaid shirts and Dr Martens in the crowd, the set design does a breathtaking job of creating a universe that feels like a familiar fairytale before the music even begins. Delicate layers of fabric frame the stage like spectral forest leaves.

This textured intricacy is then mirrored in the spellbinding performance. Successfully leaping between tracks past and present, frontman Justin Vernon is hypnotic. That familiar falsetto greets fans across “For Emma” and “Flume” – while “Creature Fear” provides the night’s centrepiece with a stunning visual eclipse and the turbulent emotion in the instrumentation.

If their latest album 22, A Million teases a world of possibility with its technological experimentation when you listen to it at home, to see it live is to really feel these ideas blossom. Each song has the weight and story of a self-contained movie; it rises and falls, creates a warm and striking universe each time again, to see and hear afresh with every track.

The set opens up like a matryoshka doll — soon the percussions and saxophonist look familiar, but there’s always something more to explore as the show goes on. A man of few words, Vernon does little to explain his lyrics of deep-rooted pain and lost love on stage, but he doesn’t need to.

As a horizontal spotlight catches his face and reflects it on the other side of the room, the familiar minimalist distortions of “22 (OVER SOON)” signal an end to the night. Without explicit pain nor elation, Bon Iver’s spellbinding performance has done the work no filler chat ever could. Hold onto the unspoken magic of such an artist before they fade out.

Originally published on the Independent


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