Here’s a Bon Iver review I wrote for Fan-Belt Milwaukee:
Actually, I’m kinda miffed that I had to share Justin Vernon with 100x more people than the last time I saw him. A bunch of people braved the zero-degree weather in January to watch that Mad Planet show, which was also sold-out.
Back then, Bon Iver definitely was just Justin Vernon’s nom-de plume, and his backup musicians were only there to help him along. It was a sparse, lonesome and starkly beautiful performance. I remember the bottom of my stomach falling out, and then listening to his album — written up north after a bad break-up — the rest of that desolate winter.
But last week, at The Pabst, that Bon Iver performance was a whole different band. The performance was warm, joyous, and suffused everyone with a golden glow that they took home.
I’d read interviews where Vernon said Bon Iver has solidified into a real band now, with its members contributing equally to the songwriting and performances, and it showed. On the songs, from For Emma, Forever Ago, song parts that used to be silent were filled with bouncing percussion and deftly-woven harmonies. There were steady bass parts holding up the melodies; there was energy and strength behind the songs of heartbreak and pain.
Of course, there were some parts that faltered — a Talk Talk cover made me feel like dozing off, and “Lump Sum” had some prog-rock bits that seemed forced, like unecessary jam band noodling.
The Pabst crowd was great for the most part, except when buffoons would yell out random things during the songs, which I hate. I also don’t get the audience participation for Bon Iver songs because they’re terribly sad, but in this instance, they worked.
But those were tiny glitches in a beautiful night, which included a cameo by Collections of Colonies of Bees’ Jon Mueller on drums, and was capped by a cover of “Lovin’s For Fools” by Sarah Siskind.