Bon Iver @ the Sidney Myer Music Bowl – 8/03/2012

 Picture an iron grey sky vaulted over a lush green mound, with flittering patches of tartan picnic rugs overlapped with maroon and mustard clad people cavorting back and forth earnestly for a good view of the large stage, a giant eye looking over the twelve thousand-strong mass. That was the setting for one of the most beautiful and evocative performances of 2012 – Bon Iver at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Finally finding a great seat smack bang in the middle of the hill, my ever faithful partner in music-related jaunts and I sat down just in time to see Sally Seltmann get on stage. Somehow evading being the focal point of the screens on either side of the stage, Seltmann, with her wistful and endearingly quavering vocals, permeated through the masses, riddling the performance with new songs along with a cover (if it can be called a cover) of “Even Though I’m a Woman” of her part time trio, Seeker Lover Keeper. Starting over one of her new tracks let the set falter somewhat but even though, it was a decent beginning to an amazing evening.

The sky was an ominous presence all afternoon and as soon as the main act got on stage the inevitable happened – it rained. And by rained I mean I felt one drop of water smatter on my face and then it ceased. Luckily the weather crisis was averted as “Perth” swept over the lawn, causing the onlookers to stand up to get a better view of the myth, the man, Justin Vernon. To be frank I had only heard bad things about the acoustics of the setting but there was nothing to complain about that night whatsoever. Bon Iver’s soundscape has expanded over the years and so too has his band, totalling nine members at last count, which favoured the latest songs but at the same time invigorated his labours from For Emma, Forever Ago. Instrumental solos wove together the endings and beginning of songs seamlessly. Although he did not say much Vernon was clearly in his element and enjoying himself, allowing smattering insights into certain songs paired with long winded analogies (“RE: Stacks” is akin to being a tube of toothpaste, “feeling jelly” and then having your contents pour out of your sides, no less). “Holocene” was a highlight for me, sending shivers down my spine, stopping me from muttering the lyrics to embrace his impeccable voice. As he got to his older tracks the new arrangements took a little while for me to digest – especially paired with an epileptic inducing light show – yet it was still captivating. The closest thing to negative criticism I can muster is that “Creature Fear” was not as joyous and uplifting as I was hoping for.

Eventually it came to that point in time where things had to finish up in time for curfew and so when the auto-tuned “Beth” finished, Vernon stated “Apparently there’s a curfew: fuck that” and so he did. The crowd was silent as “For Emma” played, causing my friend amongst others to shed a tear or two. Declaring that it was the biggest crowd he had ever played for, Vernon asked the audience to pitch in and sing along to the chorus of “The Wolves (Act I And II)” louder and louder to protest against the noise restriction; unfortunately after six times incrementally wailing “What might have been lost” I found myself one of the few actually participating – Melbournians are a self-conscious lot.

I really struggled for words that could replicate how wonderful the evening was. Not really being a fan of large events this was definitely the exception to the rule, being intimate and emotive as any smaller sideshow could be, the epitome of an unforgettable performance. All I can say is that I hope you see him next time.

by Mason Smith

March 22nd 2012
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