BON IVER w/ SHARON VAN ETTEN
@ PACIFIC COLISEUM, VANCOUVER
SEPTEMBER 9, 2019
A Bon Iver live performance is not your typical concert. If you want a show to dance to, this is probably not it. However, if you want to experience a mind-blowing light show, hear technically astonishing sounds, and watch a true artist create music, go see Bon Iver.
Tonight’s performance at Pacific Coliseum opened with indie rocker Sharon Van Etten. The acoustics and sound engineering in the Coliseum were fantastic, as every instrument from Van Etten’s band sounded crisp, and her voice rang out clear and strong. She primarily played music from her most recent album, Remind Me Tomorrow. This included the hit “Seventeen” — when she belted out the song’s third verse, her voice rose to the point where it was almost a roar, drawing out cheers and applause from the audience. Despite her extremely awkward dance moves and the basic lighting (four coloured spotlights pointing down at the band), she played a solid set, likely winning a number of new fans.
However, Bon Iver took the concert to another level entirely. Justin Vernon and his band came on stage to the processed electric static bursts of “Yi” and stood in what appeared to be separate triangles of light, resembling some kind of futuristic spaceship rock band. We have come a very long way from the lonely folk singer in the cabin in the woods. Standing amidst seemingly tangible pillars of light, Bon Iver opened with the first couple tracks from their latest album i,i, moving into “Lump Sum” from their first record. While this track is largely acoustic on the album, it was almost changed into a dance track with gently pulsing bass and Vernon’s multi-track vocal synthesizers that were heavily utilized on 22, A Million. Throughout the night, Vernon transformed tracks from their studio versions into magnificent live editions.
This included stripping away the guitar on “Towers” to turn it into a jam with a travelling drumbeat, introducing slide guitar to “Jelmore”, ending “Salem” with a groovy guitar solo, and performing an epic rendition of “Heavenly Father” complete with crashing drums and powerful saxophone. Other highlights from the night included a tender, stripped-down version of “re:Stacks”, pairing saxophone with Justin’s Messina on “___45___”, the groovy guitar riffs of “666 ʇ”, and the powerful intensity of “Perth”. I highly encourage searching for live videos of Bon Iver songs; they are truly magnificent. We can only dream of an eventual live album.
Besides the stunning music and visuals, I was impressed by Vernon’s humility. He repeatedly thanked the audience for coming, in a voice that seemed genuinely appreciative. He also spoke several times of the current political situation in the United States, saying how “sometimes you wish that you could just start over”. As the concert came to a close, I also wished for a restart. Yet I wasn’t thinking ofundoing the political turmoil and confusion of the last few years. I just wanted to hear Bon Iver play all of their songs one more time.