From the Wisconsin cabin where he created Bon Iver’s 2007 debut album five years ago to the majestic Radio City Music Hall, Justin Vernon has made a few strides.
Almost 6,000 fans eased into the hall’s plush red-velvet seats on Sept. 21 as Vernon transformed the iconic and acoustically gifted venue into an enchanted place.
He and his eight-piece band began with the feel-good melody of the hit “Perth.” After a soft guitar intro, Vernon’s choirboy voice moved in over rolling drums. The high, passionate vocal was met with muscular horns and flickering lights.
From there we got a flawless segue as tapping percussion signaled the beginning of “Minnesota, WI.” The keys stretched out, horns swirled, finger-picking animated the guitar.
The stage was hung with serrated, intertwined pieces of canvas displaying psychedelic images and colors. Green lights beamed from all heights.
The set featured the 2011 self-titled sophomore album with a few treats from elsewhere, like the bone-chilling version of “Creature Fear” off the debut record, “For Emma, Forever Ago.” A warm trumpet and delicate guitar notes gave away to knee-rattling work from a double set of drums and an all-out jam.
For 31-year-old Vernon, the past year has brought the 2012 Grammy Award for Best New Artist and Best Alternative Album (the award went to Bon Iver, a band name that has covered several configurations led by Vernon). He appeared on several tracks of Kanye West’s “My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy.” The four shows at Radio City Music Hall closed out the North American leg of a worldwide tour.
Vernon has kept his original core of drummer Sean Carey and guitarist Michael Noyce, as well as much of his stripped-down sound, even while expanding into the eight-piece ensemble. He can fatten the sound when desired, as in the rocking version of “Blood Bank.” Vernon shredded the guitar solo while the crowd did its best bobble-head.
Left alone and without instruments, Vernon manipulated his voice with Auto-Tune and looped it into sections and harmonies for a jaw-dropping version of “Woods.”
He closed out the main set with “Beth/Rest,” full of a dramatic 1980s-feel, with abundant horns and high-pitched guitar work.
The encore’s three songs all came from his 2007 debut. The minimal yet intense “Skinny Love” offered commanding harmonies. The call and response of “The Wolves (Act I and II)” had the crowd singing the chorus zealously.
The closer was a breezy “For Emma” with horns escalating over steady rhythm. Cheers, bows and exit stage left.
Here’s a selection of New York-area shows in October. Please note that opening bands aren’t always listed. Shows marked (SO) are sold out, although online services such as Craigslist often have tickets.
Oct. 2 Django Django/Lemonade at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 3 M83 at Hammerstein Ballroom Oct. 4 Alabama Shakes at Terminal 5 (SO) Oct. 5 Animal Collective/Micachu & the Shapes at Williamsburg Waterfront Oct. 6 Nick Waterhouse/Allah Las at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 7 Flying Lotus at Terminal 5 Oct. 8 Freighted Rabbits at Bowery Ballroom (SO) Oct. 9 My Jerusalem/Freshkills at Glasslands Oct. 10 Fiona Apple at Capitol Theater Oct. 11 SBTRKT/Kilo Kish/Koreless at Terminal 5 Oct. 12 Mike Watt & the Missingmen at Bell House Oct. 13 Calexico/The Dodos at Webster Hall Oct. 14 Silversun Pickups/Cloud Nothings/Atlas Genius at Terminal 5 (SO) Oct. 15 Sloan at Music Hall of Williamsburg Oct. 16 Dent May/The Orwells/Tashaki Miyaki/Foxygen/Rafiq Bhatia/Murals at Mercury Lounge Oct. 17 Citizens! at Highline Ballroom Oct. 18 The Walkmen/Dum Dum Girls/Daughter at Terminal 5 Oct. 19 New Order at Roseland Ballroom (SO) Oct. 20 Reigning Sound at Bell House Oct. 21 Wild Nothing/Merchandise/Mac DeMarco at Bowery Ballroom Oct. 22 The Sea and Cake/Matthew Friedberger at Le Poisson Rouge Oct. 23 Cat Power at Hammerstein Ballroom Oct. 24 Father John Misty/La Sera at Bowery Ballroom (SO) Oct. 25 2:54 at Mercury Lounge Oct. 26 Saint Etienne at Webster Hall Oct. 27 Heartless Bastards/The Futurebirds at Irving Plaza Oct. 28 The xx/Chairlift at Loews Paradise Theater Oct. 29 Swans/Devendra Barnhart at Music Hall of Williamsburg Oct. 30 Aimee Mann/Ted Leo at Music Hall of Williamsburg Oct. 31 The Meter Men at B.B. Kings
(Jaime Widder works in sales for Bloomberg News. Any opinions expressed are his own.)
Muse highlights include Lance Esplund and Jorg von Uthmann on art.