Friday, June 06, 2008

Bon Iver @ St Giles' church, 4 June 2008

Justin Vernon isn't much of a rock star. None of this 'aren't I great' posturing or strutting of any kind. Quite the opposite in fact. He seems quite humbled and bowled over by the response to his debut album as Bon Iver, the wonderful record with the romantic back-story that has had critics and fans slavering countrywide for the past few months.

There were couple of hundred or so of these fans in the beautiful St Giles-in-the-Fields Church on Wednesday, all part of the (over?) capacity crowd, many straining around poor sight lines to see the burly figure of Vernon on stage with his two-piece band. And what an amazing gig - full of both the expected and the unexpected. What we did expect was to hear For Emma, Forever Ago to be played in its entirety - after all, Bon Iver's repertoire isn't exactly huge. What I didn't quite expect was just how beefed-up and fantastic it sounded. I was ready for Vernon alone on stage with an acoustic guitar. Instead he was tooled-up with a rack of guitars, and his bandmates came with more guitars, multiple drums and effects pedals. The result? An amazing sound enhanced even further the church acoustics.

Justin was alone for only one song - Regard the Stacks (to give it its full name) - which was spine-tinglingly gorgeous, the church so quiet you could hear breathing. But elsewhere, the volume was cranked up, and sounded particularly impressive on the post-rock wig-outs at the end of Wolves and Creature Fear. In fact the last three songs - the aforementioned Re: Stacks and Creature Fear, followed by closing number For Emma, performed unamplified by Justin and the boys in the centre of the crowd, using the acoustics to full effect as they piled on the harmonies - are easily my live highlight of the year so far, maybe even longer.

The applause at the end, as it had been throughout was deafening, heartfelt and long. The standing ovation at the end was even more rapturous. No wonder Justin was bowled over. I wonder how he's going to take it when he plays Shepherd's Bush Empire in September to ten times as many people. He better get used to the praise, because even although this was a special evening that's never going to be replicated, if he keeps up this form he'll be unbeatable.

Download: Bon Iver - Re: Stacks
Download: Bon Iver - Wisconsin

Buy For Emma, Forever Ago from Rough Trade or download from emusic.

Photo from David Emery's Flickr. Have a look at his photos of this gig - they're great. I took some, but they were far from great - too many heads in the way, including David's I think.


David Emery said...

Nice write-up.

It was indeed a truly special gig, although as you hint at while the venue was amazing it didn't have that many places where you could see too well. Also, good to see such a rapturous reaction from a very 'media' and industry crowd.

catherine said...

Gorgeous pic!

He got a similar reaction to Re:Stacks in Dublin two nights previous - it was so quiet I could hear a bar girl's feet squeaking off the sticky floor as she tried to sneak past me. Lovely.

The Daily Growl said...

David - absolutely, though as you point out in your blog post, the absence of a bar may have helped. No clinking, no idle chatter. All sober and concentrating hard. A good recipe I think - there should be more gigs here, though the sight lines are a bit rubbish. Fine for seeing the vicar in the pulpit, not so good for anything below...