Bon Iver at First Avenue

Categories: Concert Review

I'd seen Bon Iver before -- several times, actually -- but never quite like this. With each return to Minneapolis he seems to snowball more and more fans, and Friday night's show at First Avenue proved that he's capable of selling out and mesmerizing a room of over 1500 people.

Photo by Ward Rubrecht.

My absolutely favorite thing about seeing Bon Iver live, even moreso than Justin Vernon's warm, wooden falsetto or the band's ability to take a song from barely anything to a crashing everything, is the silence. The silence that falls between the notes of their most delicate songs, when you realize that the entire audience has shut up and that you can hear the air conditioning unit in the Main Room shutting on and off, because nothing -- not gossiping to your neighbor, not ordering another drink, not even cheering -- is more important at that moment than hearing what Bon Iver is going to do next.

Bon Iver played through all but one song on their breakout album For Emma, Forever Ago, and threw in a few surprises: a new song, "Blood Bank," which had been getting passed around between Bon Iver fans via a clip on YouTube, and two covers, Talk Talk's "I Believe In You" and Sarah Siskind's "Lovin's for Fools."

Photo by Ward Rubrecht.

I had never heard of Sarah Siskind before the Bon Iver cover surfaced, but her song "Lovin's for Fools" is heartbreaking. It sounds familiar immediately, mostly because of the line "You'll never know dear how much I love you," which is also a line in "You Are My Sunshine," and Vernon's treatment of the song is absolutely breathtaking. At the end of the night, just before retiring backstage to bask in the success of perhaps their biggest sold out show yet, Vernon instructed the audience that we should be quiet and that he wanted us to hear something special. Vernon gathered his bandmates Mike Noyce, Sean Carey and Bowerbirds' Mark Paulson around an old fashioned microphone at the front of the stage, and he and Moore traded off verses while the others sang harmonies, accompanied only by the soft strum of Vernon's guitar. The result was chill-inducing, to be sure, and people wanting to clap or cheer in appreciation were immediately shushed by others in the crowd. During that song, Bon Iver showed what it means to hold an entire audience's attention with the whisper of a sad love song, and it was absolutely beautiful.

Set List:

Lump Sum
Creature Fear
Blood Bank (new)
Skinny Love
I Believe In You (Talk Talk cover)
Wolves (Act I and II)

For Emma, Forever Ago
Lovin's For Fools (Sarah Siskind cover)

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