Bon Iver - Manchester O2 Apollo

Justin Vernon certainly has come a long way since his last visit to Manchester over two years ago, playing the tiny (yet completely packed) Academy 2 in support of his word-of mouth success For Emma, Forever Ago which subsequently went on to land on practically everyone’s best of list. And now look at him: “This is exciting!" he says walking onstage to a sold out Apollo crowd, the first show of his sell out UK tour - and he's right!

Vernon might be the brains behind Bon Iver, but tonight it was all about the band, a group of almost supernaturally talented musicians, some switching instruments as easily as the rest of us change socks. Horns, strings, guitar, percussion, the combination of the band’s virtuosity and Vernon’s charismatic stage presence gave the songs a power and resonance surpassing the album versions. Beginning with the beautiful ‘Perth’ from the new album the band charged through a long and generous set encompassing old and new favorites. The lovely reminiscence of ‘Towers’ segued into the solemn ‘Michicant’, the song breaking apart at the end like pixels dissolving from the screen with the melody softly fading away like a passing thought.

Though the new songs - ‘Calgary’ or the haunting ‘Holcene - went down well, it was the old faves, like ‘Flume’, ‘Blood Bank’ and most especially ‘For Emma’ which were greeted with riotous cheers. It's been too long since we got to hear these wonderful songs live and Vernon performed them masterfully, his voice gliding effortlessly from falsetto to a deep rich baritone. After a standing ovation the band returned for an encore of ‘Skinny Love’ (with just Vernon on guitar and his colleagues backing him up on vocals) and ‘The Wolves’ both from the first album, which was rewarded with another standing ovation, the visibly moved Vernon waving a humble goodbye as he left the stage. He has come a long way indeed.

Set list: Perth, Minnesota, WI, Towers, Michicant, Flume, Creature Fear, Hinnom, TX, Wash., Holocene, Blood Bank, Re:Stacks, Calgary, Lisbon. OH, Beth/Rest, For Emma

Encore: Skinny Love, The Wolves

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