Sydney was treated to a live experience like no other
Image: Jordan Munns.
There’s something to be said about an artist who can command the attention of their audience. From the moment Bon Iver stepped on stage at Sydney’s Aware Super Theatre, Justin Vernon had the crowd mesmerised. In a live experience like no other, their doting audience remained speechless throughout the 90 minute set, too stunned by the audio and visual feast that unfurled throughout the night.
“Thanks for being patient,” he says, arriving on stage thirty minutes after their scheduled set time due to technical difficulties. “The back up of a back up of a back up went down.” Shrouded in blue spotlights, Vernon and guitarist, violinist, saxophonist Michael Lewis performed a new track, Speyside. The dulcet tones of Lewis’ saxophone melodies beautifully accompanied Vernon’s deep and captivating vocals, kicking off the concert with a moment of peace and clarity before launching into a treasure trove of songs brought to life through strong musicianship and dynamic production.
Sparse purple hues glimmered through 666 ʇ, with timed spotlights beaming from above during the chorus to light different pockets of the stage that reacted with the songs beats and structure. Every single thing happening onstage is considered, with each song bringing its own nuance. In Perth, stage lighting fills the venue, slowly moving throughout replicating the sun disappearing on the horizon, before four red streaks of light run across the stage during Heavenly Father. Aureate flooded the stage during Skinny Love, and an electric lighting plan erupted during 33 “GOD”. Furthermore, each band member had their own work station that surrounded Vernon. At moments throughout the show your focus is drawn to each performer, but never in a way that is detrimental to their overall unity as an ensemble. Each member showcased their skills as multi-instrumentalists, switching between synths, percussion and rhythm sections, and brought an unmatched level of professionalism to the stage.
There was rarely a moment where the wonderstruck audience became vocal throughout each song. They held their cheers and applause for the conclusion of each piece, instead choosing to lap up the engaging artistry that oozed on stage. Very rarely would you see the glow of a phone raised in the air, they were living in the moment and taking it all in. One gentleman appeared to be having what could only be described as a spiritual experience, often looking up to the heavens and nodding his head, playing out melodies with his fingers as if he was sitting at a piano, and letting the experience immerse him. 9,000 audience members sat within the venue, yet there was an undeniable intimacy laced throughout the evening. Perhaps that could be due to Vernon’s luring and spellbinding vocals, or each songs vulnerable and introspective lyricism, but you wouldn’t be remiss for thinking you were the only person in the room at times. This could also have been furthered by the lack of video screens, instead encouraging the audience to hone into the stage. Vernon engaged with the crowd throughout the night, never in a way that seemed disingenuous or rehearsed, instead feeding off their energy and creating a genuine conversation where he’d react to what individual members of the audience cried out.
Whilst Bon Iver aren’t exactly a mainstream act, sure they’re widely known but exist outside of a commercial realm, fan-favourite songs provided some of the shows more standout moments. The first time phones seemed to be raised was during Perth, and one of the only songs that enabled a sing-a-long was Skinny Love. Re: Stacks and 33 “GOD” also encouraged rapturous cheers from the audience. But each song was heralded by the presence of Vernon’s voice. Darting between hearty vocals, gleaming falsetto and magnetic autotune, this curated set allowed for Vernon to show off his chops as a singer. The group also showcased some gorgeous harmonies, at points creating beautiful choral moments that entranced the audience. The arrangement of the songs performed meandered between indie-folk and electronica, leaning into heavy glitching synth-based tracks and guitar-led tunes. Throughout the night, strong and engaging percussion work added another layer to the already monumental show. The dual drummers stood out for their spirited performances, and each musician would add further elements such as a harmonica or shaker to create further depth within the songs.
Outside of the pure magic, there seemed to be genuine appreciation from Vernon and his troupe of musicians “We appreciate y’all so much” he told the audience, consistently thanking them for choosing to spend their Friday evening together. But there is no doubt that they wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else than experiencing the kick-off of Bon Iver’s 2023 Australian tour.
BON IVER AUSTRALIAN TOUR DATES
Saturday 18 February 2023 – Aware Super Theatre, Sydney
Tuesday 21 February – MONA FOMA, Hobart
Sunday 26 February – Perth Festival, Perth
Thursday 2 March 2023 – Riverstage, Brisbane
Saturday 4 March 2023 – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Sunday 5 March 2023 – Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne
Friday 10 March 2023 – WOMADelaide, Adelaide