The Bon Iver I was introduced to in 2008 was a very different Bon Iver than the one I saw Thursday night at the Fox Theatre. That isn’t to say that the current-day version is not worth seeing or listening to—it is certainly the opposite. Go see Bon Iver. There will not be any regrets.
In 2008, we saw Justin Vernon smash into the scene with For Emma, Forever Ago, a post-breakup album met with critical acclaim by just about everyone. Paste Editor-in-Chief Josh Jackson once wrote that that album was “drenched in the kind of sadness that feels a lot like joy,” and for many of us in 2008, it set a tone we had been craving. I was only 16 years old when For Emma, Forever Ago was released and up until a couple of years ago, lyrics to “Skinny Love” were still scrawled across my childhood bedroom mirror. I like to imagine it took my mother much more than a paper towel to remove those ardent words, despite being written in meager dry-erase.
Push the fast-forward button and we watched as Vernon dropped 2011’s captivating Bon Iver, disappeared from the public eye for a couple of years to pursue various projects and then, finally, returned triumphantly in 2016 with 22, A Million For some, the third album took a lot of getting used to, but for others, it was a work of art. In our review for 22, A Million, Eric R. Danton wrote:
After a few years of introspection (along with producing albums for other artists and starting the Eaux Claires Music Festival), Vernon has come back to Bon Iver. If he’s not exactly refreshed, it’s clear on 22, A Million that he feels a renewed urgency to create. There’s certainly a sense of urgency here, and also sublime moments on songs that overlay beauty with turbulence in a way that suggests an anguished soul reaching for solace amid turmoil.
The Bon Iver I saw last night was met by a sea of people who had been with Vernon since the beginning and had stuck through nearly a decade of an artist in continuum. We weren’t there to hear him play “Holocene” and go home merely satisfied—we were truly there out of gratitude and respect for what he has created, both the old and the new. From the first note of “22 (Over S??N)” to the closing of “The Wolves (Act I & II)” we as an audience held our breath, fully submerging ourselves in the reverb.
When Vernon returned for the encore by himself (“Skinny Love,” obviously), it didn’t feel like he was playing it just because he had to. It was warm and familiar, a thank you to us for sticking with him for all of these years.
If you haven’t seen Bon Iver live, I suggest you change that. Musically, it won’t be the exact Bon Iver you listened to years ago, but that’s not a negative thing. Justin Vernon proves that what is already great can be made even better.