As Justin Vernon takes to the stage tonight, there is a sense that the prodigal son has returned. Just four years ago, the genius behind the phenomena of Bon Iver, was eking a living out, selling mobiles phones in Eyre Square and busking in his spare time.
As the heavens open onto the big top tent, Vernon tells the crowd that this gig is something really special. With a gleam of nostalgia in his eye he rips into a heartfelt rendition of ‘Flume’, which one could be forgiven for believing it is the national anthem, such is the audience enthusiasm.
All things considered, this gig has the vital ingredients to be a classic, but there is something in the air, maybe it’s the rain, maybe it’s the big top tent factor and the bad sound, but the night gradually corrugates into a blasÃ© affair of beer-drinking chit chat – than the reverent, spiritual experience it should elevate to.
Now personally I like to take every gig on its own merits, but having seen Bon Iver twice before, outside of Ireland I start to begin comparisons to fonder performances of the band I have witnessed- and after twenty minutes, it becomes inevitable that tonight’s show will be relegated to the dustbin of foregone forgotten memories.
Songs like ‘Skinny Love’ and ‘Stacks’, require an almost religious respect from the audience, to work as live numbers. But the crowd present this evening, would rather recall episodes of Eastenders throughout the entire gig than listen with grace and dignity, to surely one of the most gifted songwriters of the last twenty years.
The tent now feels, and sounds, more like a cattle fair than a live concert, and true to the idiosyncrasies of the drunken, Irish summer gig-goer, the audience adopts the “Ole Ole” approach to every song, with the traditional two hands in the air, “We’re all part of Jackie’s Army” carry on, subsequently drowning out the wonderful falsetto of Vernon and his gifted ensemble on stage.
The band seem too tired to notice, and for all the gig’s faults, there are moments of the sublime, with songs like ‘Wolves Part Two’, making even the most cynical of music critics in the audience to shed a tear or two. The singing of happy birthday to guitarist Michael Noyce also seems to put the band at ease with a crowd, despite their blathering, keep a smile on Vernon’s face throughout the performance.
Bon Iver look like they need a little R and R, and some new songs to follow the high standards they have inevitably set themselves, after the success of the masterpiece, that is For Emma.
Bitching and moaning aside, you cannot fault the band, for a performance that’s as tight as a nun’s chastity belt. As the masses exit across the banks of the river Corrib in the lashings of rain, you get the feeling it’s the O2 arena, where Bon Iver will be strutting their stuff pretty soon, which unfortunately, is more the pity.
Bon Iver live video from Galway.
Photo courtesy of Flickr User Sarah Buckley.