Bon Iver, The Staves – Glasgow Scottish Exhibition & Conference Centre – 10/11/12

Over the last five years, Justin Vernon – the heart of Bon Iver – has made an incredible leap from recording in a hunting cabin in Wisconsin to a sell-out show at Glasgow’s Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre. The thought of Bon Iver playing an arena tour across the UK still astounds me; the most affecting music I have ever known – as despairing as it is heart-warming – being performed to crowds of over a thousand. It seems to me that the music should only be delivered in the warmth of a log hut in the mountains, or not at all. It is just too beautiful to give to everybody.

We step off the train at the Exhibition centre in the west end of Glasgow on the bank of the River Clyde. The station is a swarm of flannel shirts and beanie hats.

“This must be the most hip platform in the world right now” my friend Lewis says. I look him up and down and nod with a grin. He has been talking excitedly of the prospect of seeing Bon Iver again for the past few weeks. He had met vocalist and songwriter, Justin Vernon in a coffee shop last year when the band had played the Usher Hall in Edinburgh and I am pretty certain it had been the best moment of his life. Vernon is a hero amongst folk-lovers and I must say I had been utterly jealous when he told me.

London three-piece, The Staves are starting their support slot as we walk in. The band of sisters set the tone of the night effortlessly. A wave of dulcet tones envelops the crowd as they harmonise their vocals on top of stirring chords played simply on acoustic guitar and ukulele until a point when the whole room looks as captivated as I am.

The Staves are three of the most talented musicians in the UK at the moment. They uphold a blend of brilliantly written songs and incredible raw talent; a combination so rare in the popular music industry at the moment. They finish on the track ‘Wisely and Slow’, which, at only around a minute long, condenses and demonstrates exactly what is so great about their music.

By the time Bon Iver take to the stage, the crowd are standing in such anticipation, the fervour seems to dwell below the ceiling. Without so much as a “Hello”, the band propel into Perth. “I’m tearing up across your face, move dust through the light to find your name.” There is a melancholy in Vernon’s lyrics and voice that manages to punch the whole crowd in the stomach. I can feel myself being physically pushed back in marvel. I never knew it could get this good.

Who can say anything negative about Bon Iver? There is no wonder they have had such a great year. The best new artist and best alternative album at the Grammys as well as best international newcomer and best international male at the Brit Awards. One outstanding, sell-out tour thrown into the mix and it could not get any better.

They perform a gutsy set interspersed with instrumental links, giving the true enthusiasts an insight into forthcoming songs and raising the exhilaration. The elegance of Wash sends me adrift with my thoughts and the addition of The Staves performing on a stripped down version of Re: Stacks is a stroke of genius. They sound as tight as they do recorded and with nine members on stage, every aspect of every song is accounted for.

The visual aspect is also something to behold. The set – which looks disturbingly comparable to wet, brown rags being hung to dry across the stage – comes to life as the lighting shines to give the impression of jagged, mountainous silhouettes. The large screens to either side of the stage do not even detract from the experience as I had anticipated – showing mostly Vernon’s pain-stricken face as he sings.

The whole show is topped off by the encore. “Someday my pain, someday my pain will mark you” squeaks from Vernon and the room erupts as Bon Iver play Wolves in its entirety. They finish with For Emma and the audience repeatedly scream “what might have been lost” as Vernon responds devotedly with “don’t bother me” which leaves me in a more emotional state than I have been in for some time. The assembly ramble out into the night with a lust for more and I know I will never neglect the chance to see Bon Iver again. Shows like that never grow old.

Photo by Mel Harper:

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