It is very common for bands to fall short of their hype. With positive critical reception and fan response building audience and listener’s expectations, bands often face the tough obstacle of surpassing almost impossible standards. Yet amongst the heights or notoriety, there are those who truly deserve their hype. Enter Wisconsin’s Bon Iver.
In a few short years, the indie/alternative rock act, composed of upwards of 10 live musicians, has grown from underground buzz band to Grammy Award winning artist. The reason? They’re great. Tonality, genre, and sound aside, Bon Iver delivers top-notch performances from a number of musicians at the top of their respective games. Fronted by singer, multi-instrumentalist, song-writer Justin Vernon, Bon Iver took the Radio City Music Hall stage for four sold out nights (this being their second).
There, under a stunning backdrop and impressive lighting, set opener, “Perth,” echoed through the sold out hall, only to be nearly drowned out by audience eruptions. Along with an alluring stage setting was an impressive array of instruments including two full drum sets, keyboards, violins, guitars, horns and more. However, elaborate sets and grandiose instrumentation aside, Bon Iver masterfully navigated through their discography to deliver a rich and encompassing performance.
Though tonally Vernon’s work has evolved from stripped down acoustic set ups to meticulously layered ensembles, he managed to capture each facet of his work. Through tight arrangement and the reworking of songs, Vernon and company created a cohesive and full set. Tracks “Re: Stacks,” “Skinny Love,” and “Beach Baby” captured the band’s stripped down acoustic dimensions they’re first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, is filled with. In addition to this, Vernon demonstrated a knack for retooling, instrumentation, arrangement, and dynamic with “Blood Bank, “”Beth/Rest,” and “Minnesota, WI.”
Amidst an impressive set list and stunning visuals, the highlighting attribute here was musicianship. Bon Iver delivered a powerful performance that came across as passionate, sincere, and honest, all of which come together to create a fully engaging performance. Though emotion is thoroughly weaved throughout their set, the band sometimes teetered on over self-indulgence (see three minute violin and saxophone solos). But, despite this, they managed to circle back to the base of each song without losing any momentum.
A more minute enjoyable detail was in the band’s understanding of their set. Where they did indulge in a number of personal shreds, they also created a set list of songs that thoroughly captured their work, and covered every highlight along the way. All in all Bon Iver delivered a performance that unmounts all standards and expectations. From beginning to end, the ten plus members of Bon Iver fully invested their personage into each song, and it was clear.