Bon Iver – Birmingham Academy – 9th November 2011


“Never waste a moment to put a fuckin’ advertisement on some shit” – sings Justin Vernon, his voice drenched in sarcasm, as he notices the perma-blaring TV screens all over the bars of Birmingham Academy. He’s got a point – during tonight’s performance, no-one in this corporate-sponsored hall is looking anywhere near the bar. They’re too busy being alternately spellbound or pulverised by Vernon and his 8-strong band for over 90 glorious minutes.


A rainy night in Birmingham is a world away from the Wisconsin wilderness that gave birth to the Bon Iver project. Yet his music, especially from this year’s self-titled sophomore record, transcends it’s place to achieve moments of beauty that are positively otherworldly. When the Bon Iver story began, with Vernon retreating to the woods, locked away in a log cabin, many felt that we had a new “folk” hero to champion. Well, tonight’s opener “Perth” smashes that myth to pieces, its lush guitar lines swelling to cacophonous volume as the band unleash a raw power that stuns the crowd.


The only time he digs out an acoustic guitar is for the now ubiquitous “Skinny Love”, which has lost none of its punch since many first heard it belted out on Jools Holland a couple of years back. Tracks from For Emma, Forever Ago,  that debut which propelled Vernon into the public consciousness, are scattered through tonight’s set, and boosted by the stunningly talented band. Two drummers, a cavalcade of brass, keyboards, layered harmonies all combine to produce a dense texture over which that powerful falsetto moves. The new songs are surprisingly experimental in structure, particularly “Hinnom, TX”, a song carried along purely by an electronic squelch and little snatches of melody.


The packed out crowd reserve their biggest cheers for the old songs, and closer “The Wolves” see everyone inside belting out it’s pained refrain with all they can muster. Vernon thanks the crowd heartily as the song thunders to its climax. Folk hero? Not on this evidence.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.