A couple of Christmases ago I picked up Bon Iver’s first record in one of those 2 for £10 deals. I don’t know why, I hadn’t even heard of them but something was telling me I needed that CD and I don’t think it could have been more right. For Emma, Forever Ago blew me away with its sheer beauty and I just couldn’t get enough of it playing it constantly and getting lost in the moment many, many times. This year saw the release of Bon Iver’s second full-length record, the self-titled effort was a big step away from For Emma but still remaining so quintessentially Bon Iver. I had been waiting for my chance to see him live for so long and as soon as tour dates where announced I snapped up tickets for my best friend and I to see him in Manchester.
The Manchester Apollo used to be an old cinema and it lent itself perfectly for the evening’s proceedings. There is only one support act tonight and that’s Canadian beauty Kathleen Edwards (http://www.kathleenedwards.com/), she’s wrapped up warm in a very fetching plaid jacket commenting on how cold it is in the venue and how this is her first visit to Manchester when it hasn’t actually rained. She is the perfect choice for the support and her country-tinged rock goes down well with the crowd. Not only does she play and sing well she also is an excellent storyteller as she tells the crowd about the time she went to see the polar bears in a place that you could only get to by helicopter and how that magical place inspired the song Wapusk. It was sung beautifully and made you want to visit the Canadian National Park. (http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/mb/wapusk/index.aspx) It’s a great start to what promises to be a perfect evening.
It’s all about Bon Iver (http://boniver.org/) tonight though as the sold out crowd take their seats in preparation for one of best live shows they will ever witness. The self titled album gains a whole other perspective live as Justin Vernon backed by a 9 strong band, including 2 drummers and a ‘Bass Saxophone, not a Baritone… If you call it a Baritone I’ll have to break your face’ as Justin so eloquently put it head straight into Perth. From that moment on Vernon and his band of merry man took the Manchester crowd on a journey that they will never forget. The songs sound absolutely huge and the inclusion of 2 drummers is a stroke of genius, it’s as far away from that wood cabin in Wisconsin as you could possibly get!
For anyone thinking this would be a show with just Justin and his guitar singing softly couldn’t have been more wrong but there is no disappointment here, they’ve pulled out all the stops and light show that accompanies Creature Fear is wondrous to behold. Blood Bank sounds magnificent and Justin is left on his own to sing a beautiful rendition of re:stacks slowing things down for the first time in the set, the crowd sits silent and in awe, everything forgotten as he whisks us away with his haunting vocals. It’s Calgary though that got me going, my favourite song off the new album and Justin Vernon’s beautiful voice ringing out across the Apollo had me almost in tears as he ended up on his knees lost in the moment after his guitar solo.
If you have the new record then you’ll know all about the song Beth/Rest the final song that just seemed to come out of nowhere, the almost 80’s power ballad that divided a huge number of fans some hailing it as the one of his best songs others just hating it. I have to say I was in the latter camp, well that was before I heard it live and ate my words. That was a song made for the live setting and now I don’t cringe every time I hear it and have no problem singing along to it in my car!
The encore was one of those perfect musical moments that don’t come around very often but when they do you’re left to pick your jaw up from off the floor. Justin Vernon took to the stage with a steel resonator guitar, picked up by a single spotlight and started playing Skinny Love with the rest of his band mates behind him providing vocal harmonies, it was special moment but it was Wolves Act I & II that brought the house down. The whole crowd standing and singing the line ‘what might have been lost’, over and over again, louder and louder until it reached a huge crescendo of noise was something to behold, one of those I was there moments. With the hairs standing on the back of my neck and tears welling in my eyes I know I just witnessed something very special, and as they took their final bows the whole room stood to their feet as Justin thanked the crowd looking extremely humble and blown away by the reception of his fans.
The Wolves (Act I and II)
Review – Hannah Sebastjanowicz
Photos – Steve Gerrard