Review: Bon Iver in Usher Hall, Edinburgh

I’m gonna break my usual blogging routine to write this review. Don’t worry – you’ll still get the next post in Writers’ Secrets first thing Monday morning. I just couldn’t wait til Wednesday to tell you about this.

Last night I went to Edinburgh to see Bon Iver. The journey there wasn’t too bad – managed to get most of the way there by train before having to switch to the old rail replacement bus but the journey back was a nightmare. There was no train. We got the bus at 11.30pm and I got home at 2.30am. Not fun.

But it was worth it. Definitely worth it.

Bon Iver were mind-blowing. From the moment they began playing Perth stillness stuffed the room. I was seated in the Upper Circle and was worried that I wouldn’t really get the atmosphere up there. I was wrong to worry.

Playing in such a big band – there were 9 of them in total – gave the music such depth and intensity. Sometimes it was like you weren’t hearing the music, you were feeling it. It was around you and inside you, flowing and throbbing through your body.

As far as the ‘show’ element went – I thought it was perfect. Simple use of coloured lights to create different effects – sometimes making shadows of all the musicians as they threw themselves into the music, sometimes thumping with the beat, sometimes a single white spotlight on Justin Vernon in the most haunting songs.

The crucial moment for me was when they played Flume. There was something so raw and soulful and beautiful about Justin’s vocals. He brought me to the brink of tears.

From that moment on I was an emotional…wreck’s the wrong word but you get my meaning. Even in the pulsing performances of Blood Bank and Creature Fear. Even in the almost gospel-like Beth/Rest I felt close to tears – uplifted but close to tears.

In The Wolves I was saved by a man ‘wooping’. Such an expression of pure joy and Justin’s welcoming, enthusiastic reaction made me laugh. To be honest, I think that’s how I felt for most of the time, teetering between laughter and tears. But The Wolves  was such an emotional, dramatic ‘end’. I’ve sung-along at gigs before but not like this. Not with such heart.

When it was over the crowd roared and stood and stamped and clapped with all their might. For the first time in my life I didn’t care that my hands were stinging. I never wanted to stop.

Of course, they came back on. We all knew they would. They hadn’t played Skinny Love yet. It was inevitable.

They began their encore with For Emma and, though I was waiting for Skinny Love I lost myself in the song, again. To me, it stopped mattering what they did and didn’t play as long as they didn’t stop.

But they really couldn’t follow Skinny Love. The atmosphere had been building, all along, to this point. I’d been waiting for this perfect ending. For the band to gather around Justin in such an image of friendship and love that you couldn’t help feeling it too. (Wow, I’m getting really hyperbolic here. Sorry but this is the only way I can even attempt to capture the experience). Again I was saved from tears by laughter when the gathered band members did the stamp-clap. That moment was almost too perfect for me.

Bon Iver left me with an emotional high that I still recall now, just thinking about it. Perhaps it goes without saying that this was the best gig I’ve ever been to. It definitely goes without saying that I urge you to go see them. You will not regret it. And I will never forget it.

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