There’s always been an intimacy to Justin Vernon’s music, whether created alone in a hunting cabin in the winter Wisconsin wilderness—like his 2007 debut For Emma, Forever Ago—or crafted in “the largest residential recording studio complex in the world” outside El Paso, Texas, surrounded by immensely talented individuals, as Bon Iver’s latest album, the August-released i,i, was.
“It’s definitely the most as a band we’ve ever recorded [together],” Vernon says in the recent album documentary Autumn—watch below. “It’s a much bigger sound.”
As he and his collaborators detail, it’s always a challenge to translate their increasing complexities to the stage, especially as they tackle the biggest venues of their careers.
Nevertheless, the Bon Iver crew more than managed to create an impressive and moving experience that was sonically and visually rich when they took the stage at the Moda Center’s Theater of the Clouds on Tuesday evening.
With 25 pieces of mirrored, space-age metal suspended above their heads like neon UFOs, the six-piece band worked through a diverse cross-section of Bon Iver’s catalogue—see the set list below. And as they did so, those metal mirrors moved measuredly like lethargic drones dancing to the pricisely placed light show and in turn bouncing beams of light across the stage and into the entire arena. Meanwhile, the band’s state-of-the-art, three-dimensional, immersive sound system made them sound superb, from Vernon alone on “Skinny Love” to kick off the encore to the driving military drums on “Perth,” which hit your torso in waves and rattled your heart around in your chest.
Always his humble self, Vernon blurted out his honor to be playing in the home of the Trail Blazers, and dedicated "re: Stacks" to Ivan Howard of The Rosebuds, who started Vernon on his musical path by giving him his first job in a real band, and who also treated him to lunch at SW Portland’s Mummy’s—a downtown restaurant and bar decorated with hieroglyphics, sarcophagi and other Egyptian artifacts.
Winding down the set with crowd-favorite “Blood Bank” and ending with the new record’s closer "RABi,” Vernon wanted to leave us with love. Encouraging us to support those in need, specifically by visiting the Women's Foundation of Oregon (the night’s local partner that “is dedicated to building an Oregon where every woman, girl and femme can thrive”), he said: “It’s I and I. It’s all of us together.” —CY
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