Gig Review: Bon Iver @ Manchester Academy 2, 15th September 2008

Bon Iver @ Manchester Academy 2

I think I can safely say that last night’s sold out Bon Iver gig at the Academy 2 exceeded my expectations, and probably the expectations of almost everyone there. Having seen his appearance on Jools Holland back in May where he played alone armed with just an acoustic guitar, and given the quiet, desolate nature of the brilliant For Emma, Forever Ago album, I was expecting much quietness and gentle nodding and stroking of beards. But no! Bon Iver rock! Like bastards! Well they did for the first two songs: a blistering “Blindsided” and a version of “Creature Fear” in which the guitars completely swamped the chorus to the song’s detriment. I was beginning to wish that I’d taken my new earplugs.

The band is now a four-piece with main man Justin Vernon on guitar and keyboard duties augmented by a drummer, bassist and guitarist, all of whom know their way around a four-part harmony. Vernon’s voice is a thing of wonder but backed by his three cohorts the likes of “Skinny Love” and “Flume” reached new heights that the album versions can only hint at. The contributions of guitarist Mikey Noyce, a guy who looks like he’s barely passed puberty, were especially welcome. He took lead vocals on an excellent cover of Graham Nash’s “Simple Man” and his atmospheric use of slide and E-bow on the likes of “Flume” and “For Emma” added an extra dimension to the sound.

There was some great audience participation with the extremely affable Vernon getting everyone to join in the “what might have been lost” refrain on “Wolves (Acts I and II)”. As the song built up from its subdued beginnings the band shifted gear as the audience came in and eventually drowned us all in another huge racket of guitars.

The band were equally as compelling when they quietened down a bit. “Skinny Love” had Vernon on acoustic and the other three on drums and those delicious harmonies while “Re: Stacks”, probably my favourite track on the album, was the most faithful to the album version with Vernon left to his own devices to send shivers down spines, bring tears to the corners of eyes. After the gorgeous “Flume” the volume rose again with new song “Blood Bank”, a superb organ-led country rocker that reminded us that they’ve only really got 9 songs and could do with getting a few more like this under their belts before they come back, something which Vernon then promised to do, sooner rather than later. This was a truly outstanding gig, one of the best I’ve seen this year. When they do come back, make sure you go and see them.

The setlist, if I’m not mistaken, went like this:

Creature Fear
Wolves (Act I and II)
Skinny Love
Simple Man (Graham Nash cover)
Re: Stacks
Blood Bank

Lump Sum
For Emma

Bon Iver – Re: Stacks

Bon Iver – Blindsided

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