Bon Voyage: Bon Iver’s final gig at the O2

There was once a time that the name Bon Iver directly translated to Justin Vernon and his guitar. The singer-songwriter was solely responsible for For Emma, Forever Ago and Blood Bank EP, both very popular and impressive efforts. However, upon the release of Bon Iver in 2011, one has become nine.

Being a huge fan of the band, and the self-titled album in particular, I was surprisingly tentative about this gig. I was hoping the live performance would match up to the masterpiece that is Bon Iver. And of course, as it was the last night of the tour, the pressure was on.

Opening act The Staves are hot on the lips of music blogs such as Nialler9 and Golden Plec. Having received very positive reviews from Electric Picnic, it was well worth leaving half a pint behind to get in the door for 8 o’clock. The three-piece folk group from Watford have accompanied Bon Iver across the USA and Canada and now on the European leg of their tour. From the moment they begin, it’s easy to see why Vernon & Co. have brought them along. Their songs are soft and deceptively simple, and their voices blend together with stunning effect. By contrast, their lyrics are, at times, dark and moody. Personal highlights of their set would include the beautiful “Facing West” and “Icarus”. The Staves are most certainly worth investigating.

Then, onto the main course. The nine members strolled on-stage with the casualness you would expect of a pub band; small waves to the crowd, laughs amongst each other, and smiles abound. The crowd erupts. They approach their instruments, ranging from two drum kits, guitars, bass, synth, to a violin, to horns, trumpets and a bass saxophone, and launch into Perth. The sound fills the arena, and can only be described as flawless. Having such a strong, layered and rich sound can be an issue when transferred to the live arena. But, as they power through “Minnesota”, “Towers” and “Brackett”, my fears are quickly allayed.

The band members have given songs from the first album and EP a new twist. “Blood Bank” is played in a heavier, more emphatic manner then its original, and it works perfectly. The song directly after, “Skinny Love”, brings a huge cheer from the crowd and induces a sing-along of epic proportions. It is the centre-piece of the set, and the crowd lap up every second of it.

To wrap it up, the encore includes a cover of Bjork’s “Who Is It?”. It is just before this is played that Vernon tells the audience that the band “won’t get to play this again, for a while at least”. The comment seems lost on most of the crowd, but clearly alludes to something veering towards bad news for Bon Iver fans far and wide. “For Emma” and “Wolves (Act I and II)” round off an unbelievable night. This was a master-class, and since the gig, it has emerged that Dublin was in fact their last gig for the foreseeable future. To say it was a privilege to be there would be an understatement.

Sinead Walsh

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