Bon Iver’s spectacular sold-out show at The Chicago Theater last Sunday was a long way from the secluded Wisconsin cabin where Justin Vernon recorded his 2008 debut album alone. Vernon’s stunning vocals and instrumentation were backed by an eight-piece band whose violins, trumpets, guitars, sax, and two drums rounded out the sound in the historic hall. A welcome barrage of brass and percussion accompanied several tracks from Bon Iver’s self-titled second album as well as familiar favorites like “Creature Fear,” “Flume,” and “Blood Bank.” I could feel the salvo resounding along with Vernon’s throaty baritone through to my bones way up in the theater box…or was that just my heart racing?
The exquisite performance was moving in both sound and showmanship, and hearing one of my absolute favorite musical acts live was more even more captivating than I had imagined. Vernon fell to his knees, tearing at his guitar while blood colored lights flooded the stage during “Blood Bank.” The audience was carried on the highs of Vernon’s visceral falsetto during his soaring solo rendition of “Re: Stacks.” He was visibly elated throughout the evening, even breaking into a blues riff saying, “I’m so happy, I feel like we should play some blues right now.”
This was my first visit to The Chicago Theater, a landmark since it’s opening as a movie palace in 1921. The sound was excellent and the grandeur opulent, the design having been modeled after influences including the Paris Opéra, Arc de Triomphe, and Versailles. Vernon encouraged the crowd to join him on “The Wolves (Act I and II);” echoes of “What might have been lost,” starting faintly and building to a crescendo that filled the gorgeous space. The fantastic band even covered Björk’s “Who Is It,” and then formed a semi-circle around Vernon, clapping and stomping as he crooned “Skinny Love.” Bon Iver’s performance was a singular experience, indelible from end to end. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Bon Iver as their tour continues and enjoy some clips below.