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- Bon Iver »
St Giles-in-the-Fields parish church is a beatific building. Its arches roll up high towards the ceiling, lacquered in gold bearing babes and angels and walls that mount ribbons and odd-bird life, exposing nooks that appear roost-worthy to myself and the rest of those who've climbed stairs to get a glimpse of Wisconsin (live) trio Bon Iver**.
The church is apt for an act so immediately revered - ever since the 4AD-backed re-release of sweetly-monikered debut album For Emma, Forever Ago (review) earlier this year, media and fan alike have tripped over themselves to welcome frontman Justin Vernon's word on its way back from the isolated woodland cabin that album was recorded in. Already tipped to feature in the loftier slots of critics' end-of-year lists, it's played out to near entirety tonight, leaving Vernon to apologise for a lack of new material though you get the feeling that those gathered for this end of tour showcase get exactly what they came for.
Namely Vernon - light blue shirt, right arm aloft - leading his band through an hour-long set with a demeanour that seems to suggest he’s just found his childhood sweetheart laid dead by the side of a country road. Or at least that he’s retracing the steps some months, years later. At times this becomes tedious – who wants to see a bearded man wallow in the damp of his own memories? But amidst the murk some parts light and burn in, like headlights passing nearer out of the black. Strips of guitar are torn from their tender trunk as Justin Vernon's voice bleeds slowly over what’s left, assuming a mercurial grip over those with gobs gaping in the congregation. Those four months in isolation have leant an oaky despair to his throat and with arms and burr that bulge, you can't imagine - unlike the majority of his folk contemporaries - Vernon ever being the sort of man to walk around with a baby strapped to his chest.
People keep telling me the album is different enough, but I don’t want to listen to it. I imagine it’s the sort of record that’ll keep me indoors drinking whisky through the witching hours, thinking about old girlfriends. And that’s the thing – Bon Iver keeps trying to make me think about the past, which is an unhealthy pursuit for a boy approaching 23. Still, there’s enough here to keep us rapt in the present and for someone that does what he does Vernon – in the moments that make up 'Re: Stacks' and 'Skinny Love' – is truly special; potentially as special as anyone who has ever done what he does.
And so, after half a dozen or so standing ovations, a couple of hair-raising hymnals Vernon and his boys descend from the stage and head out into the crowd to serenade from within. The tonic Bon Iver spoons up works this way, rising up from your guts like whisky to rib, burning in your throat, toasting your lungs to lend warmth to your heart.
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