Bon Iver captures the crowd at Deer Lake Park
At Deer Lake Park on Friday, May 25
The stage setup at Bon Iver’s performance at Deer Lake Park Friday evening reflected frontman Justin Vernon’s musical transition over recent years.
The songwriter that recorded the contents of his 2007 debut album For Emma, Forever Ago in a remote Wisconsin cabin is now a Grammy Award–winning artist and one of the headliners on this year’s festival circuit.
He’s also playing his current tour backed by a very full band of eight members, who cover off instruments including violin, trumpet, trombone, and saxophone.
The indie-folk act’s impressive instrumental sound, and Vernon’s trademark falsetto vocals, had the crowd of thousands in Burnaby captivated within the opening notes of the set.
But one of the most memorable moments of the show was when the band left the stage and Vernon and his guitar took to a lone spotlight for a solo rendition of “re: stacks”. The subdued performance had the audience at the near-capacity venue entranced into silence until the final few bars.
While Vernon didn’t initially offer much in the way of crowd interaction, he did provide his doting audience with a few glimpses of the personality behind the frontman, dropping phrases like “cool vibes” between songs, and seeming genuinely taken aback at the size of the audience, remarking, “There’s so damn many of you.”
The touring musician also showed he's not beyond a false start on his most well-known single, "Skinny Love", stopping a couple bars in to tune his guitar and commenting, "You can't be clever and tune a guitar at the same time."
The full performance of the song, once the band launched in, was a reminder of why the tune is so popular. When a full stage of backup singers chimed in on the “my my my” refrain following Vernon’s hushed acoustic guitar riff, the result was truly goosebump-inducing.
The Friday-evening set borrowed heavily from both of Bon Iver’s albums, with opening songs "Perth" and "Minnesota, WI" mirroring the beginning of the group’s eponymous Grammy-winning record.
There are moments on that 2011 album when Vernon strays from the indie-folk arrangements that are his strength and ventures into a jarring amount of voice distortion and adult-contemporary instrumentation, namely the track “Beth/rest”, which seemed out of place in the roughly hour-and-a-half-long set.
But the act more than made up for this departure with memorable numbers such as a sing-along version of “The Wolves” that even had the band’s crew backstage belting along, or the beautiful “Holocene” and “Flume”.
From the full sound of the eight-person backing band to the solo numbers, Vernon’s haunting voice proved equally capable of capturing an audience.
And the beautiful outdoor setting of Deer Lake Park on a sunny day seemed the ideal platform for it.
Cobweblike curtains and blue stage lights framed the band as the sky darkened, and moments like a sudden flight of geese from behind the stage across the audience as Vernon cued a crowd sing-along made the park seem like just the right backdrop.
The venue was also a good match for the pretty harmonies of opening act the Staves, a folk trio from England, as the sun set over the Burnaby amphitheatre.
Bon Iver began their 20-minute encore with a surprise cover of the Björk song “Who Is It”, and finished the set promptly at 10 p.m. with a horn-infused rendition of “For Emma”, sending the crowds filing off to the long bus and car lineups.
But judging from the crowd reaction, the trip to the Burnaby venue was well worth it.