Review: Bon Iver wows at the Playhouse

Bon Iver
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****

Justin Vernon is the creative force behind Bon Iver and backed by a two man band the the American troubador did his stuff last night in front of a hipster audience in Edinburgh’s Playhouse.

Vernon started his musical journey in a log cabin writing about love and loss accompanied by nothing more than a guitar but since those simple if sublime days things have gotten a whole heap more complicated and last night he eschewed the low-fi of “For Emma” and concentrated on more recent material, as if to prove just how far he has evolved.

This was Bon Iver on steroids, with the amps turned up to eleven, a frenzy of guitar and electronica, all fronted by Vernon’s astonishing voice, a keening falsetto that can cut your heart in half so why does he hide it behind synthesisers? That same falsetto became all gravel and gravitas when things were stripped back for a Tom Waits cover.

There was something for everyone. He was Springsteen-like on one number with the Sean Carey on drums chasing him down the rail road tracks. Another time he unleashed his inner Lemmy, screaming into the microphone like a demented old rocker. It was undoubtedly loud and bracing but not necessarily what the crowd had anticipated. At one point he thanked the harpist for her contribution but no one had noticed her subtle kerplunking behind the boys’ sonic assault.

Vernon is a creative whirlwind, distortion is his current plaything, and he seems determined to distance himself from that man in the log cabin. Instead he has reinvented himself into a rocker for the modern age with loops, screaming vocals, bass that could loosen your fillings and, perhaps in an attempt to shock the hipsters, a mumbled claim about the restorative powers of LSD.

One day the producer Rick Rubin will take him by the hand and lead Vernon back to the promised land from whence he came, just as he did with Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, but not before the performer’s boundless creativity has taken him and his audience to some interesting places.