Bon Iver – Music Hall of Williamsburg – December 14, 2016
During a cold winter in a Wisconsin cabin, the first Bon Iver album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was written out of heartbreak—and the indie folklore remains forever in perpetuity. Although raved about in music critics’ circles, the band wasn’t well-known until winning the Best New Artist Grammy in 2012 for the self-titled sophomore effort. Even then, the public was uncertain who was in the band with tweets throughout the telecast wondering exactly who Bonnie Bear was. After a three-year hiatus, Bon Iver returned to headline the inaugural Eaux Claires Music Festival in frontman Justin Vernon’s hometown. This fall, the latest release, 22, A Million, welcomed a new era in the band’s evolution, moving away from the melancholic, acoustic crooning to heavily Auto-Tuned vocals against grainy synths leaving little resemblance to that emotionally cracked man in the cabin.
Over the past two weeks, the once unknown folk band has played sold-out shows across the New York City area from Hammerstein Ballroom and Capitol Theatre to Pioneer Works and Kings Theatre. The residency ended last night at Music Hall of Williamsburg, blocks away from an in-store the band played almost a decade ago at the long-shuttered Sound Fix Records. The stage was set with gear trunks decorated with Eric Timothy Carlson’s artwork from the recent album and served as tables for laptops and synths.
Carlson’s graphics were projected throughout the entire set, offering a strange mix of numerology and lyrics. The opener, “22 (OVER S∞∞N),” echoed a familiar voice that sounded like Merrill Garbus (aka Tune-Yards), but Vernon’s foray into electronics has masked his vocal coherency. The frontman’s earlier work with the band Poliça can be heard in his delivery of “10 d E A T h b R E a s T,” where distorted percussions give way to shredding guitars. Midway through the show, Vernon confessed that it was great to be back “playing one of our favorite rooms.” In a charming moment, the sextet of backing horns, known lovingly as “Sad Sax of Shit,” accompanied the band on “8 (circle).” The evening was largely dedicated to the newer material, but Vernon offered a morsel of the past with an encore that included “Creature Fear.” —Sharlene Chiu