Bon Iver at the Chicago Theatre | Live review
Bon Iver's debut release was an intimate affair recorded in a cabin, but the group that joined mastermind Justin Vernon at the sold-out show at the Chicago Theatre on Sunday night seemed tailored to be the antithesis of that loner mentality, filling the cavernous venue with a large, layered sound.
Touring on the recently released self-titled follow-up, Vernon and his eight-piece backing band took the stage after a solid, if slightly monotonous opening set from North Carolina indie folk-rockers the Rosebuds. And with two drummers, Colin Stetson on bass saxophone and a rotating cast of guitarists, horn-players and violinists in Bon Iver, there was no shortage of thunderous crescendos throughout the evening.
Opening with "Perth," the group immediately made its volume potential evident, led by Vernon, sporting a gold-top Les Paul. Weaving its way through the first half of Bon Iver, the band continued to show their range with tracks like "Minnesota, WI" which found Vernon's rumbling baritone contrasting with his familiar falsetto against growling saxophones.
Digging into the back catalog, Vernon and company presented fleshed out versions of key tracks such as "Blood Bank" and "Flume." The rest of the band left the stage for Vernon's solo rendition of "Re: Stacks," a nuanced performance that was a reminder of the raw talent that made the Eau Claire-native an indie sensation.
"I feel like we should play the blues right now, I'm so happy," remarked an emotionally overwhelmed Vernon before launching into the synth-laden strains of lead single "Calgary." An out-of-left-field cover of Björk's "Who Is It" rounded out the main set, showcasing the considerable beat-boxing talent of trombonist Reginald Pace.
For the encore, the group huddled around Vernon as he eased into breakout song "Skinny Love," with the vocal assistance of the majority of the crowd. The night inevitably ended with Bon Iver's grating closing track "Beth / Rest," the '80s easy-listening indebted cut that was only slightly less of a misstep in the live setting than it was in its recorded form.
Despite a stumbling finish, Bon Iver proved itself to be a formidable live band. Vernon has a knack for surrounding himself with tremendous musicians, and the sweeping arrangements that result seem destined for arena tours and movie trailers. Look out Arcade Fire, these Wisconsin boys are on your trail.