Bon Iver Woos Chicago Theatre
By Jake Guidry in Arts & Entertainment on Jul 26, 2011 8:20PM
Justin Vernon, a.k.a. Bon Iver, is a man you'd expect to take things pretty seriously. His debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was recorded one secluded winter after a breakup with his previous band and his girlfriend, all while fighting mononucleosis. That album, though at times brimming with light, was altogether a dense, sad collection of songs, an apparent reflection of the events that had preceded their recording. Then Vernon expanded on his palette melancholia and released his self-titled second LP to critical acclaim, including an impressive 9.5 review score from Pitchfork. If Vernon had healed from the events that inspired For Emma, Forever Ago, a whole new set of problems seemed to have entered his life with the second album, as most songs are tinged with an air of longing and desperation. But, despite everything, Vernon and his eight-piece band put on an uplifting, inspiring show that captured the human spirit.
It takes a certain type of act to warrant the usage of Chicago Theatre's space, and Bon Iver is one of those acts. It's a beautiful venue that is very well-kept, and its sophisticated appearance and ornamentation call for equally beautiful music to roll off its walls. Vernon and his band did just that, accompanied by an understated-yet-impressive light show reminiscent of Radiohead's 2008 US tour. The band opened with "Perth", the poignant tune that opens Bon Iver's second album. The band continued on with explosive sound, clearly enabled by the wealth of instruments the nine men employed throughout. While Vernon could have simply taken the stage with a drummer, a guitarist and some backing tracks, he gave the fans' their money's worth by including horns, saxophones, two drum sets, pianos, synthesizers and more. These elements came brilliantly to life as Vernon's voice crooned over the crowd.
Throughout the set, Vernon was playful with the crowd, interacting with the various cat calls (including "I love your outfit!" and "Great abs!"). These brief pauses between songs brought playfulness to a show that would have otherwise been dark and emotionally heavy. If anything, Vernon seems to know this and does it on purpose. Over the band's 90-minute set they covered all the bases, including an impressive encore that included "Skinny Love" and the Phil Collins-esque "Beth/Rest" (that sounded even more epic live than on the album).
Overall, it is clear that Vernon is a very talented individual. What's even more impressive is that he is not just some doting depressive, but a man capable of a wide range of emotions. Which is probably why he creates great music.