Bon Iver Plays Boston’s TD Garden: Review, Photos & Setlist
A near-capacity crowd witnessed a generational talent at the height of his artistic powers when Bon Iver brought his iconoclastic blend of folk music and abstract electronica to Boston’s TD Garden on Tuesday night. For his first-ever arena tour, Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon (founder/frontman) brought along a production that was jaw-dropping in its technical versatility and sheer ambition. Not only did the lighting design rival anything being done by industry leaders like Nine Inch Nails, Phish and Radiohead, but the custom sound system used for this tour made an indoor arena sound just as good as an outdoor amphitheater.
Vernon is touring in support of Bon Iver’s fourth full-length album, i,i, a cohesive collection of songs that successfully picks the best traits from his previous works and blends them together in a way that sounds as comfortable in its skin as anything the restlessly creative Wisconsinite has made to date. His first two albums drew comparisons between the likes of John Prine and Bruce Hornsby but on 2016’s 22, A Million, his sound drew closer to modern experimental electronic acts like Animal Collective and Oneohtrix Point Never. i,i holds onto the abstract gains made on 22, A Million but once again embraces the warmth found on his earlier records.
The night started with the first few tunes off the new album and really hit its stride on “715 – Creeks,” a fan favorite that is simply Vernon’s vocals infused with a randomized pitch-bending software that makes the tune equal parts bizarre and beautiful. Since it’s literally just Vernon singing, it’s a song that changes more and more each time it’s performed. The lyrics stay the same but the cadence and rhythm of the song continue to evolve in a way that’s made “Creeks” a sort of anti-sing-along that the crowd loves but can’t really follow.
The material is so personal to Vernon that it’s easy to understand why older material wouldn’t resonate as strongly with him as more recently written songs. He answered this dilemma with new arrangements on the songs they played off the first two albums and this was most successful on “Blood Bank,” a bittersweet love song from the EP of the same name released between his first two records. The studio cut has power and drive but where it’s a mellow ride, the version played in Boston brought the heat with multiple rhythm guitarists and duel drummers giving the audience something they could really rock out to.
While “Blood Bank” may have bathed the venue in solid red light, throughout the evening, the front of house crew wielded a wide array of unique lighting designs made possible by dozens of mirrors hung above the stage that could each be raised or lowered independently of each other. Not only did this allow the LD to assemble structures of light above the band but the lights themselves bounced off the mirrors in a way that was tastefully overwhelming at times and visually astounding from start to finish. The power of the production drew attention away from Vernon, who although charismatic, has shied away from the limelight. He was one of the artists in front of the stage but the production blended each performer into a bigger design, thus eliminating any one player getting that much more attention than their band mates.
Bon Iver is about as far from a typical arena draw as they come and Vernon even said so much when he commented that they appreciate the turnout because they know they aren’t the “usual suspects,” for a venue like this. Very little about Bon Iver is either conventional or predictable and the nearly two-hour performance in Boston was all the proof you’ll need. The material is constantly changing. The setlists vary night by night, which is especially impressive due to the preprogrammed nature of most light shows and Bon Iver’s more recent work is far from the easy accessibility most listeners rely on from arena acts.
Vernon is the rare artist who is singularly guided by his own vision and refuses to allow external factors to compromise that and his show at the Garden sent the message that he refuses to be defined by industry convention, fan expectations or even his own discography.
Bon Iver at TD Garden
- 666 ʇ
- 715 - CREEKS
- U (Man Like)
- Blood Bank
- Lump Sum
- Hey, Ma
- Skinny Love
- 33 “GOD”