Last night Bon Iver played for a sold-out crowd at Cincinnati’s Taft Theater. After the initial excitement of Vernon and company walking onto the stage, the crowd fell silent within the first few notes of the iconic clean guitar hook of “Perth”, the 1st track from the band’s self-titled sophomore album. We were immediately engulfed not only in sound, but the accompanying light show that made for a truly immersive experience. After “Perth” the band moved into two back to back songs from 2016’s 22, A Million—"10 d E A T h b R E a s T" (which had bass that rattled the entire theatre) and “715- CREEKS”. Anyone who has had this record on repeat for the last 3 years like I have, knows the layers upon layers of sounds used on this album like the back of their hand but the live experience would throw even the most meticulous fan for a loop in the best way. Vernon often goes rogue from his original written melodies when playing live but the liberties taken aren’t just that of a seasoned vocalist showing off. Every note and every breath are riddled with purpose. Adorned with headphones like a crown, Vernon also manipulates the instruments and his voice in real time providing an even deeper look into his pysche. We aren’t talking about pressing a button and starting a track. Each sound and the manipulation thereof is bursting with meaning. Vernon knows exactly what he’s doing to create a mood and manipulate the audience into experiencing the music exactly as he intends and for that I am grateful.
Vernon wrapped the audience in a warm blanket with older favorites like “Towers” and “Heavenly Father” and then ripped it away with an unsettling rendition of “Moon Water”. Before closing out set 1 of 2 with “Creature Fear”, Vernon took a moment to help us reflect on how fortunate we are to be experiencing music in a safe space. He encouraged us all to help others when we can and invited us to support Women Helping Women, an organization right here in Cincinnati whose purpose is to prevent gender-based violence and empower all survivors. You can visit their website here.
Set two kicked off with “22 (Over Soon)”, the opening track of 22, A Million and we were right back in that space as if the break had never happened. The beloved Blood Bank EP just turned 10 years old this January and the band played a much heavier pure rock version of the cinematic title track. Vernon closed out the set with “Holocene” from Bon Iver and of course “Skinny Love” from For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon has been quoted as saying that “Holocene” is about being “special and not special at the same time” and delivered a performance of the song that was equally heartbreaking and triumphant. The band returned to the stage and Vernon humbly gave us a two song encore with “ Beth/Rest” and “The Wolves (Act I and II)”.
I was truly speechless leaving the venue—it’s a wonder I was able to write this at all. The short tour continues through 4/6 with tickets remaining at only one stop in Illinois. If you have not yet experienced a live Bon Iver performance, do yourself a favor and put it on your bucket list. I promise you won’t regret it!