Review: Bon Iver @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

By chloeg Last edited 125 months ago
Review: Bon Iver @ Shepherd's Bush Empire

Back in June, when the weather was good and the living was easy, we brought you a review of a gig played by a young man from Wisconsin who had taken the musical world by (snow)storm. Bon Iver (a.k.a. Justin Vernon) and the story of his minimal folk/country album need little introduction, and tonight he is back in London to try and recreate the profundity and upbeat beauty of his previous live performance.

Vernon starts with Flume, the quiet, assonance-ridden track one from his album, and such is the milk-and-honey mix of his voice that the audience falls silent. Soaring up to the rafters, his falsetto is all the more startling live, and the harmonising with the backing band is so rich that the singers seem to have reached some new undiscovered sonic territory. Bon Iver slows at key moments, like when he sings 'Harness your pain' in Wolves (Act I & 2); he pauses, everyone holds their breath, and you can register a drop in temperature, or at the very least a minor somersault around the region of the crowd's internal organs.

The latter song has everyone joining in as Vernon sings 'What might have been lost' like last time, but tonight it becomes a noisier affair, a thunderous army shouting, turning the sadness into something redemptive. With help from his band and members of support band the Bowerbirds, the ethereal sound of his record becomes something different, the addition of raucous drums in Creature Fear and the snare drum at various points bringing a driving rhythm to the music.

If it is trite to talk about love in a gig review you'll have to forgive us, because (the loss of) it is the lynchpin of the album and the centrepiece of tonight's performance. The cover of Sarah Siskind's Lovin's For Fools performed with the Bowerbirds standing round the microphone brings everything to a perfect close. However, the live performance is a happier affair than the record, the wrenching pleas of Skinny Love's 'Who will love you? Who will fight?' overshadowed by the crowd chorusing 'my my my', the ghostly feel of the album removed.

Because he so perfectly pitches beauty with accessibility, as true music often does, you worry about the co-opting of such gorgeousness into adverts for Nissan Micras and cheap soap operas. Vernon smiles and exits the stage, leaving everyone blinking at the end as the lights come on, stupified and moved and sad and uplifted, like after a riproaring argument or a run in the pouring rain. Take it, lap it up, before The O.C. does.

Image courtesy of Dimi15's photostream via the Creative Commons Attribution Licence.

Last Updated 12 September 2008