Bon Iver

support The Staves
author TL date 04/11/12 venue Forum, Copenhagen, DEN

Ah Forum! It seems like ages since I was last here. If memory serves it was for Metallica's triumphant five consecutive nights of bringing the circular stage back in 2009. With them being very much an act of old however, tonight I am here for a curious bearded fellow from Wisconsin who has become very much an act of the now. Just look at Bon Iver's tour schedule and notice how the venues are only getting larger and larger for him, and even tonight, in Copenhagen's largest non-stadium venue, Beatbox booking is reporting a resounding "SOLD OUT!" and advising people to show up early to avoid too much queueing. Well done Mr. Vernon, well done indeed, but before we see what you've got, let's discuss the support band The Staves.

Find more photos by Tom Spray here

The Staves

I have not previously heard of The Staves and in fact I was not aware that they were supporting, but as I see three women step up to a microphone each - one of them carrying an acoustic guitar - I smartly deduct that this is in fact not Bon Iver. The ladies calmly introduce themselves and start playing acoustic little indie-folk songs. The guitar component of seems relatively simple and minimalistic while the choral harmonies they conjure up are anything but. Their simple sound comes through Forum's sound system crystal clear and it is instantly apparent that not only are each of the members of The Staves incredibly talented singers, they are also capable of expertly tight and precise execution of complex arrangements of harmonies.

They are not exactly great show(wo)men however, but they earn points for addressing the crowd with both gratitude and humor, remarking that this is likely the biggest crowd they've played to yet. And while appreciators of delicately written and performed music can't but be impressed with how well they actually sing and play, the sound overall is hardly varied or dynamic enough to constistenly occupy a beer sipping Forum audience - A fact that even a guest appearance by Bon Iver's violinist Rob Moose can only go a little way towards compensating for. So overall I'd say that The Staves come off very neat and fine, but that a massive arena show like this is hardly the perfect environment for their music.

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Bon Iver

After some 25 minutes of changeover time, the lights in Forum dim for the second time and everybody turns their attention to tonight's main attraction. As main man Justin Vernon and his eight bandmates get things started with well-received renditions of "Perth" and "Minnesota, WI" however, I quickly get the feeling that my efforts to get as close as possible - which have amounted to myself being located almost dead in the middle of the venue - have only meant I'm not in a very good place. At a Danish average height of about 179 centimeters, I can honestly say that I can hardly see a thing. Maybe Forum should consider making the stage a little higher? Regardless, I face the fact that as the venue has reached full capacity, standing here has become pointless, so I head to the side of the hall where I'm lucky to find a fence to sit on which allows me good clear vision of what's going on.

Trying not to worry too much about how many people are left standing in the middle of a poor experience due to lack of vision of what's going on, I turn my attention back on Vernon and his crew, who are going through songs mainly selectedd last year's "Bon Iver, Bon Iver" but also with inclusions from both "Blood Bank EP" and "For Emma, Forever Ago". Horns, keys, violin and an extra drumkit are all adding to the layered compositions that were explored especially on the former album. The vast echo of Forum does not treat the subtleties of these layers with much kindness however, and although the sound is never bad it is clearly best during the moments when Bon Iver are a little more minimalistic. Here Vernon's fine singing combines neatly with his soulful guitar playing for nice effect, and when he concentrates on playing his instrument the frontman really seems to enjoy himself.

A true man of the indie scene however, Vernon is not the charismatic type to hype up any ecstasy in the audience between songs. Like The Staves he charms them with occasional bits of quirky humor, but otherwise we're left to be dazzled exclusively by the combination of his band's music and the very elaborate light show - which features something like a forest of torches on stage and massive drapes hanging above it on which various visuals are consistently projected. It looks good and it mostly sounds good as well (especially the keyboard melody in "Beth/rest" is as enchanting here as it is on album), but while it seems everything possible has been done to counter this, I still can't help but to find that like The Staves, Bon Iver's ideal venue would be a theatre in which a seated audience could all enjoy a calm view of the stage while being treated to the band's musical intricacies in the presence of optimal acoustics. In the large scale of these conditions however, the intimacy of the music often gets lost - as underscored by the oddly upbeat and choir-backed version of "Skinny Love" that predictably finds its place in the encore. So while I ended up having a fairly good evening in the company of Bon Iver, I must say that I think Vernon has reached the point where his popularity is starting to work against the quality of his shows - and I wonder if there aren't a great deal of short people leaving the middle of Forum after tonight that agree with me.

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