Bon Iver - Latitude 2012 review
'A lesson in unexpected contrasts'
Rebecca Laurence - 14 July 2012
Bon Iver's headline set at Latitude - and only UK festival appearance this year - is a lesson in unexpected contrasts.
Justin Vernon, who came to our attention with his 2008 debut, 'For Emma, Forever Ago'- a winsome, wintry affair recorded in near solitary convalescence in his father's Wisconsin cabin, has made a concerted effort not to become pigeonholed as just another one-man-and-his-guitar singer-songwriter.
The result is that the Bon Iver that appears on Latitude's Obelisk stage is a near-on ten-strong band, forging straight into tracks from last year's self-titled LP. 'Perth', the album's opener, blasts its authoritative snares out into the crowd, highlighting the contrast between this and the more well-known, sparse and introspective 'Emma' tracks.
And while the band surprise in the sheer noise they create, especially on slow-build tracks like the sublime 'Holocene', the visual spectacle is also something to behold. A stage which appears at first to be hung with dull brown netting, becomes transformed by lighting, which turns the innocuous rags into alternately, jagged, mountainous silhouettes or multicoloured meteorological maps, in keeping with Bon Iver's pastoral shtick.
While the first half of the set is dominated by these more strident, multi-layered tracks, it is only later that earlier songs appear, and we are allowed to focus on their creator. 'Skinny Love' sees Justin Vernon clutching the antique guitar which provided the song's distinctive sound, surrounded by flickering lanterns.
For the title track from 2009's 'Blood Bank' EP, the stage becomes blood-red, and the song, beautiful and sparse on record, is drawn out into an epic jam here. It's not hard to see, at this moment, why Bon Iver will be returning in the autumn to play a country-wide stadium tour.
Yet in spite of this inexorable growth, this is a man, (and a band), about understatement and collaboration as much as anything, all plaid shirts and humble mumblings of gratitude.
The highlight, and finale of all Bon Iver shows, is when the audience joins in to sing the chorus of 'The Wolves (Act I and II)', building to a joyous climax. In the sheer enjoyment this communal singing reveals tonight, as the rain falls softly on the Latitude crowd, that we are as important to the experience as anyone - something Justin Vernon is surely keen for us to know.
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