By Thomas Johnson, May 31 2018 —
Despite the obvious aesthetic differences between Bon Iver’s debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, and their recent third album, 22, A Million — an intimate catharsis taken amongst cedar and pine in the depth of wintertide and a grandiose marvel of electronic manipulation, respectively — the band’s oeuvre is characterized by intangible threads of beauty that accumulate to uncommonly pretty music. These qualities, ones that incite a profound warmth in your bones, were on full display Tuesday night as the group overtook the Stampede Corral with a pair of sets — separated by 22 minutes, of course — and a majestic encore.
Even considering the pace which Bon Iver’s music generally plods along, the whole performance was notably sombre. Songs were drawn out and allocated space to lurch forward and evolve in real time. The setlist was structured with a balance of tracks from all three albums, with a slight favouring of 22, A Million. The minimalism of For Emma was drenched in heavy reverb effects, which bandleader Justin Vernon has lately become fond of. Two particular renditions of For Emma’s tracks — “Creature Fear” and “The Wolves (Act I & II)” — grew from skeletal acoustic concepts into massive cocktails of distortion that eventually imploded under their own magnitude.
The main set closed with a hearty performance of their debut’s title track, replete with a crowd eager to provide additional vocal backing. After a brief reprieve, Bon Iver returned for an encore, gratifying the crowd with the fetching “Blood Bank” and finally soothing them with the majesty of their greatest hit, “Holocene.” By the time Vernon and Co. thanked the crowd to bring the show to a definitive end, the previous two hours seemed in retrospect like a transient reverie. Filing out between the Corral’s concrete pillars felt like the cruel surge back to reality from a fleeting dream.