Gone are the days of Bon Iver gently melting the hearts of a select few die-hard indie fans. Despite Justin Vernon’s perception of his Wisconsin band’s small-town roots and enduring intimacy, Bon Iver is officially an arena-worthy powerhouse. Their singular sound, their cultist fandom, and their creative limits are seemingly boundless, making Boston’s TD Garden appear like a temporary solution in the exponential growth of this consistently ballooning band. Their show this past week was nothing short of stunning, showcasing their elemental ability to package over a decade of eclectic music into one prodigious set.
Pairing Bon Iver’s headlining bill with the similarly tenured band Feist was an intelligent decision from the part of tour officials. The Canadian indie-pop group shares an adjacent fan base to Bon Iver, while their pairing was comfortable and complementary in its categorically symbiosis. Even still, assuming the role of an opening act for an arena show is a significant challenge for any group. Feist had just as big of an audience to please, but with only a fraction of the theatrical support and intangible authority. Feist answered the ambitious call with flying colors as frontwoman Leslie Feist’s gorgeous voice boomed through the stadium and brought crowds to their feet earlier than expected. She admitted she didn’t feel comfortable on such a large stage let alone opening for such a prolific band, but their transcendent act reminded the crowd that Feist had plenty to of fun content to flaunt from their gleaming 15+ year careers.
When listening to Bon Iver’s most recent/complex studio albums i,i and 22, A Million, one might question their ability to replicate such technically demanding production on the live stage. Those worries vanished as Bon Iver began their set with the first four mechanically intricate tracks on i,i, “Yi”, “iMi”, “We”, and “Holyfields,”.
While the band calmly breezed through these complicated songs, dozens of rectangular panels held on individual strings slowly moved in synchronized patterns above them. The panels were illuminated along the edges and mirrored on their flat surfaces, leaving a series of reflective mediums for beams of light to cast fantastic shapes off the panels and into the crowd. The incredible visual effects these panels created in tandem with Bon Iver’s electronically sophisticated songs brought the band’s limitless imagination to life. It was no longer a question about whether their spectacular performance could match toe-to-toe with their spotless discography, but rather how brightly they could shine on Boston’s biggest stage.
That being said, the few nostalgic souls that bought tickets in hopes for the soft and natural sound of Bon Iver’s earliest work were in for a bit of a very rude awakening. Sure, the spotlight shined on Vernon during a few breathtaking acoustic ventures like “Marion” and “Skinny Love”. But other songs like “Blood Bank” were reimagined to exhaust every one of the 7 band members talents in a much more radical and intense interpretation of their normally tender classics.
Whether new, old, acoustic, or instrumentally elaborate, every song in Bon Iver’s set was emotionally exhausting. Their ability to explore musical terrain unknown to other artists before them left the audience feeling as they had used a part of their brain they didn’t know existed. This small Wisconsin band has evolved into an engine of ingenuity, proving themselves as a brave stalwart in a world limited by nothing but themselves.
Below is a playlist featuring every track performed in order by Bon Iver during their trip to The Wang Theatre this last Wednesday.
Favorite Live Tracks: 715 – CRΣΣKS, Skinny Love, Blood Bank, Hey Ma, Marion