Bon Iver ~ Tripod: Outstanding

8 10 2008

Last night saw Bon Iver return to Tripod for the second time this year. On the back of June’s now near-legendary gig, the Wisconsin three-piece had a lot of hype to live up to. As one of the first crazed fans through the door, I parked myself in front of centre-stage and refused to move, despite death-stares from some equally obsessive attendees.

Having heard reports from the last show there, I was expecting nothing short of acoustic perfection, so I was surprised by the magnitude of instrument tweaking and tuning that went on before the band took to the stage. An impressive set up of no less than 3 drum kits, 7 guitars and 2 keyboards (and that’s just what I could see from my 5-foot-zilch eye level) made for a decidedly, um, ‘un-acoustic’ set. Support came in the form of Anais Mitchell who, with her 1960’s-inspired lyrics about free love and revolution, seemed to be going for the Joni Mitchell vibe, but with her eerie fixed grin and youthful naivety it manifested itself as way too contrived. All a little too coffee-house folk for my liking to be honest.

So, after what seemed like an eternity of the aforementioned tweaking and faffing about with instruments, the buzz of chatter lulled and the bizarre interval music subsided as a hush fell over the room and Bon Iver emerged from backstage and began their set with album opener, Flume. First impressions were that this gig was going to live up to my expectations by providing an evening of tender harmonies and subtle melodies. I was completely blown away by what followed. After the beautifully up-tempo Lump Sum came to an end, my personal favorite album track Creature Fear, which has lulled me off to sleep many a night, was transformed by an overwhelmingly powerful electric guitar-enhanced chorus. Subtlety was out the window but amazingly the song managed to retain it’s tenderness, plucking on every heart-string in the room with the raw and genuine emotion prevalent in the music coming from the stage. Equally entrancing was their rendition of probably the band’s best known tune, Skinny Love, made famous by Vernon’s acoustic Jools Holland performance. The use of three simultaneously-pounded drums made for an epic sounding ending to the normally tranquil track.

I have to admit, until last night I considered Bon Iver and Justin Vernon to be one in the same, with the former being nothing more than a moniker for the modestly charismatic front-man. However, after witnessing the mutual respect that the three piece afford each other’s skills, I can safely say that Mike Noyce and Sean Carey are just as integral to Bon Iver’s successes as Vernon is. Since their last show here, where Vernon apologised for their lack of material, Bon Iver have added new song Blood Bank to their on-stage repertoire, along with two cover songs – Graham Nash’s Simple Man and Talk Talk’s I Believe in You, sung by Noyce and Carey respectively. At the tender age of 21 (and to look at him you wouldn’t give him a day over 16), the baby-faced Mike Noyce stunned the audience with his rendition of Nash’s song by providing gentle yet confident vocals. Carey was equally as mesmerising performing vocals to I Believe in You which built to a powerful crescendo helped by stunning harmonies from the rest of the band.

The set concluded with with the laid-back front-man asking for some audience participation with The Wolves (Act I & II), something which I haven’t seen at a gig in ages – I was giddy as a schoolgirl. As the crowd echoed Vernons cries of “what might’ve been lost”, what we lacked in pitch was made up for with enthusiasm as the song built to a raw, primal scream from the occupants of Tripod.

Not one to disappoint, Vernon reappeared for a solo encore initially with a tender performance of Re: Stacks before being joined on-stage by his band-mates once again for the poingiant For Emma. The evening drew to a close with Bon Iver and support Anais Mitchell performing their version of Sarah Siskind’s Lovin’s For Fool’s.

I have to admit, prior to the gig I had wondered if Bon Iver would be able to tackle a large venue such as The National Stadium, where they play this December. I thought that maybe their songs were too beautifully fragile to fill such a bland open space, and that maybe they needed the intimacy of a venue such as Tripod to maximise the spine-tingling effect that they had on their listeners. I am now of the conclusion that you could be standing in the middle of a warehouse surrounded by thousands of people and still Bon Iver would make you feel like you were the only person in the room and that these songs were for you. Ok, corny I’ll admit, but after last night I just feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Do not ON YOUR LIFE miss December’s date!!