Bon Iver is a thing. Bon Iver is a wonderful Wisconsin thing.
To most people, Bon Iver is Justin Vernon – the man, the myth, the legendary Wisconsin musician who recorded an epic album while hibernating in a cabin in our own northwoods. But on Saturday night, it was clear that Bon Iver has become, in Justin’s own words, “something bigger.” No longer a solitary man grieving with his guitar, Justin made it a point to announce that Bon Iver was a thing – something he attributed to his Eau Claire roots. “Growing up around here, you learn that you are not one thing. You are a part of something bigger,” he explained, after stating how good it felt to be back home on Wisconsin soil.
On, Wisconsin! Bon Iver's last stop here was back in 2008 at the Barrymore, so he was well overdue for a Madison show. The Orpheum's majestic-but-cozy setting was a fitting venue for Bon Iver's homegrown sound. And if you hadn't seen Bon Iver since his last show in Madison, you were probably surprised by the number of people on stage. Justin was accompanied by a slew of talented musicians, yielding an array of brass & stringed instruments. The ease with which Justin & crew could transition from the quiet, haunting emotion of For Emma tracks like “Re: Stacks” to the orchestral anthems of Bon Iver like “Holocene” was impressive. The highlight of the show for me was the last song (pre-encore), the audience-interactive "The Wolves (Act I and II)." Hearing the crowd sing "what might've been lost" before howling together in the outro provided a beautiful choir of Midwestern voices emanating from within the Orpheum.
The encore included a clap-happy rendition of "Skinny Love" (which seemed to satisfy the bros standing next to me), as well as the beatboxing-Bjork cover “Who Is It” that they’ve been peddling on this tour (we love you, Reggie). With four Grammy nominations (Best New Artist, Best Alternative Music Album, Song of the Year, and Record of the Year), as well as legions of fans at sold-out shows across the country, the rest of the world is starting to know what we do - Bon Iver is a wonderful (Wisconsin) thing.
There's no denying that Bon Iver evokes emotions. The guy standing next to me summed it up well when the house lights came on: “Well, I only cried twice.”
[photo credit: J. Schneider]