Continuing a run of New York area shows, Bon Iver brought his new album 22, A Million to The Capitol Theatre on a cold night in Port Chester. He hasn’t yet announced a full-on American tour in support of the record, but the handful of West Coast and New York City dates bring the experience first presented at the Eaux Claires Festival to a few lucky audiences.
Long gone are the furs and stripped-down set-ups of early Bon Iver shows. The performance mirrored the complex mix of electronics and symbology of 22, A Million with several large video screens and complementary light patterns. The show was a kaleidoscope of instruments and symbols, perhaps more intense than what one would expect from Bon Iver prior to this new record, but right in place with expectations after hearing the varied glitchiness and sound-shifting on 22AM.
Even with the direction of the new album, Bon Iver succeeds at making the unnatural and electronic feel relatable and personal. Whereas For Emma, Forever Ago exuded the warmth of the remote Wisconsin cabin where Vernon created the album, 22 A Million reflects the inherent paranoia and isolation from being in such a place for an extended amount of time. And any hesitancy to emerge from the loneliness and express his vulnerabilities has washed away with these shows supporting the ambitious new record that has made its way to the top of year-end best-of charts.
The band performed every song from 22AM except for “21 MOON WATER”, and added four songs from Bon Iver, Bon Iver and the two most climactic tracks from For Emma to end the regular set and encore, including the main set closing freakout of “Creature Fear”. Live versions of many of the songs were so fully-imagined – “666 ʇ” was one of my least favorites on the record, but had some giddy-up as a highlight of the set this night. Additionally, I thought Justin Vernon’s guitar work on songs like “Perth” and “Towers” really got its due, whereas it may have been overlooked on the instrumentally expansive Bon Iver, Bon Iver. And that voice. The moment he sang the opening to “22 OVER SOON”, I was stunned. Surely Justin Vernon’s voice can’t be more soothing and stunning live. But it really was.
The inevitable sing-a-long to close out the night with “The Wolves (Act I and II)” is a concert experience that I have always dreamed of. Justin Vernon sings “Someday my pain will mark you”, and the crowd consoles him with “What might have been lost”. It’s a back and forth that becomes all too real and served as the perfect human close to a night highlighted by digital discord.
The most breath-taking moments of the show came when Justin Vernon was alone, fittingly enough. “715 – CREEKS” and “00000 Million” show him at his most vulnerable, begging to find forgiveness for his faults and reconstruct his true self. With 22AM and these shows in support, he has turned his sadness into one of the most unique concert performances on the circuit.
22 (OVER SOON)
10 d E A T h b R E a s T
715 – CREEKS
29 #Strafford APTS
The Wolves (Act I and II)