Grammy-winning indie outfit Bon Iver kicked off Fuse Music Week, presented by Diet Coke, Wednesday night at Radio City Music Hall in New York City, and the band's tender, pastoral sound was a perfect match for the storied venue's majestic beauty. The heart-rending moments were frequent; yes, it was one of those shows. Check out photos.
The Wisconsin band turned in a 90-minute-plus set full of emotional ups and downs, with the haunting voice of Justin Vernon, the band's frontman and songwriter, out front with his gold-faced Gibson and vintage acoustic guitars. His nine-piece touring band—composed of pals from their hometown of Eau Claire, WI, where they have a rural live-in studio—laid an orchestral, layered sound with keys, strings and plenty of percussion and horns.
Vernon, in a 180-degree move from the mood of his music, was light and jokey; he cracked about the band's "deep discog"—they've only released two albums, including their 2011 Best New Artist Grammy-winner, Bon Iver, Bon Iver—and busted about playing the same set all week ("No, I promise we won't"). He also waxed nostalgic about meeting a one-time Bon Iver band member at the venue while doing backup dancing for David Byrne (!!!), and what a "momentous" occasion it was to play in the legendary venue.
The emotional weight of songs like "Skinny Love" and "Flume," both from Bon Iver's debut For Emma, Forever Ago—tracked with old recording equipment during Vernon's three-month "hibernation" in a Wisconsin cabin following a nasty breakup—was massive. He led on acoustic guitar on those, while the Bon Iver tracks, including "Holocene" and "Towers," were more orchestral and fluid, lofting up into the venue's glowing uppers on the back of reverbed electric riffs.
During their encore, Bon Iver closed with "For Emma," a bright, albeit touching and poignant, song with gentle horns and Vernon lamenting a failed love—"Running home, running home / Go find another lover to string along"—over staccato acoustic guitar. It's clearly one of their most affecting tunes, considering its placement in the setlist, and for the first time that night, the house rose to their feet. They swayed. They clasped hands. You could practically feel the hearts skipping.