Bon Iver achieved a top ten album in the UK and US with their self titled second album. So are definitely popular enough to fill Wembley Arena’s 12,500 capacity but can the warmth and intimacy of their sound be sustained against a large setting? Acoustic tunes like ‘re: Stacks’ could be talked through by agitated viewers or the lush production on Bon Iver will be tough to replicate live, for example, double-tracked vocals from the lead Justin Vernon. Or the second album’s cohesive bleeding from track to track, perhaps when separated could lose momentum and context. Also the prospect of watching an artist with only two short albums and 17 minute E.P, could produce a very comprehensive set which plays lesser loved tracks in order to ‘fill’ time. They have created a tough challenge.
As soon as the first notes of ‘Perth’ are played the tension is over. The band sounds fresh, dynamic and stimulating. Passionate falsetto vocals, which are passed through a duel microphone and perhaps tweaked, and strong backing vocals replicate the double tracking and harmonies from the records. Clearly enjoying this grand experience, the band add extra crescendos and sparks to the song which is cleverly translated it into a great live experience.
The band continue through sophomore tracks ‘Minnesota, WI’ and ‘Holocene’ to the titular track from the Blood Bank E.P to a fantastic audience sing-along. Smooth guitaring and layered sonic backdrop throughout. Enriching the sound, and creating a balance of sounding similar to the record but adding extra kick, the live band is made up from nine performers, including musicians who have played with Arcade Fire, Antony and the Johnsons and Sufjan Stevens.
…creating an exciting experience for fans…
Pleasantly continuing with tracks ‘Beach Baby’, the subduing ‘Hinnom, TX’, ‘Wash.’ and ‘Towers’ to their first entry from For Emma, Forever Ago: ‘Creature Fear’. During stripped acoustic number ‘re: Stacks’, the supporting band The Staves contribute backing vocals to give the track a different, and interesting, layer of backing harmonies from the studio version, thereby creating an exciting experience for fans who do not just want to hear a dead replica of source material.
Bon Iver proceed in playing the remaining tracks from the second album and conclude with anthemic album closer ‘Beth/Rest’ possibly the only song in the bands repertoire that can naturally be seen in grand context and, naturally, sounds breathtaking. The band encore on a run of debut album favourites ‘Skinny Love’, ‘The Wolves (Act I and II)’ and ‘For Emma’. Vernon seduces by saying “it is not your privilege, it is your duty to sing along” in order to increase participation for an uplifting finish.
…intimacy and warmth…
The challenge was well accomplished. Never did the set seem stretched to fill time nor was the intimacy and warmth of the studio output lost as Bon Iver managed to create an enchanting grand event. The time graced by. Bon Iver successfully adjusted their songs to be played in a large arena, now let’s hope they do not compromises the next album to purposely fill arenas.