Bon Iver’s Creature Fears Tamed

Bon Iver – Manchester Apollo – 20th October

 

Bon Iver’s eponymous follow up to the 2008 classic For Emma, Forever Ago is the sound of a band moving on. You can almost hear the smash of an acoustic guitar against a studio wall in the distortion fueled crescendo of album opener Perth, and before tonights show I was both curious and concerned as to whether this sonic metamorphosis would result in Justin Vernon and co. attempting to fix songs which certainly weren’t broken.

 

Show opener Kathleen Edwards’ rustic folk sound evoked the usual folk/country suspects of fellow Canadian Neil Young’s ilk, and although she was pleasant enough as a warm up to the main event, one always got the unsettling feeling that she was just a campfire away from singing Kum Bah Yah to an unresponsive Apollo audience.

 

Bon Iver were somewhat slow to come out of the traps with album openers ‘Perth’ and ‘Minnesota MI’, both of which seemed to lack the conviction present in the recorded versions. As the show progressed and the audience were treated to radio darlings Michicant and Towers the band grew more confident in communicating their new sound, and Vernon looked as comfortable rocking out as he did in taking a back seat to the subtleties many of his songs demand.

 

Apprehensions about possible reworkings of For Emma, Forever Ago material were soon realised as the silence framing the careful guitar strums of Flume was filled with oceanic guitar swells and manic saxophone orchestrations. The result was as often stagnating as it was majestic, the latter of which was certainly the case with the broken hearted defiance of For Emma. However the real centrepiece of the show came during the breathtaking Re:Stacks when the band left Justin Vernon alone to pour his heart out over his guitar, leaving the song untampered in its perfect amber and gripping in its rawness.

 

As the full band closed with The Wolves the majority of the audience gave a standing ovation to a band brave to enough to depart from a sound which had made them so critically acclaimed three years ago. Although these risks may not have always paid off, as was the case with the Phil Collins-esque synthesised cheese pop of Beth/Rest, they’re made all the more worthwhile for the scraps of brilliance produced in abundance tonight.

4/5 Stars

Written by Andrew Parkinson

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