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Fans keep 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago so dear to heart. When Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon wrote “Skinny Love”, he was crafting together the commentary to dwindling love stories across the country. With the 2011 self-titled release, people thought nothing less of the delicate confessions that were offered. These songs of solitude and searching are appreciated for the way that they genuinely capture our most human moments and the fragile beauty, so I was naturally curious as to how the songs would feel when shared with a crowd as big as that at the Bank of America Pavilion.
The stage had an atmosphere of wonder with blue lights laid at different heights in front of the stage and ripped cloth draping above. As the ocean salt mixed with the air and a cool breeze blew through the pavilion, it only felt right that a band as special as Bon Iver would be there to share one of the last summer nights.
When Vernon graced the stage with his large band, the sound was instantly found to be the same feel as what I was familiar with on the albums, but with bigger production value. Two drum sets, two guitars, a xylophone, a saxophone, and a trombone set the frame for the opener “Perth”. Nothing is lost through the big sound though. If there is one thing that Bon Iver has down, it’s subtlety.
It’s funny – the things that we treasure about Bon Iver are translated in such a way that you feel as though that you are at more of a rock show, yet you still feel the same closeness. “Towers” was an excellent example of just this. The band still uses their talent of holding back from extreme levels of musical movement at the most painful of times even though it is tempting to let go and play it out. It’s towards the ending section of the song where we truly get to see the band act on the emotions that we feel through the crafting of soft words and delicate instrumental parts. This is why Bon Iver shows are a commodity; this is what we have to hold special. The high energy, the big production at the end – it’s like an exhale to all the pain we connect to within the whole of Bon Iver’s catalog.
“For Emma” ended off the set with a precious connection between the crowd and the song. It is a special thing Justin Vernon has, being able to connect thousands of people to such focus and reflection. The Bank of America Pavilion is a decent-sized venue, but the sound of the warm guitar strums and the nature of the performance made the show an intimate experience. The passion and care just drew you right into focus. You could see it on his face; he really felt that beauty in all the pain and he wants to share it with the masses who have felt that exact same way.