Ten years after its release, Bon Iver revisited his self-titled sophomore album with back-to-back concerts at the YouTube Theater at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, California, beginning Friday (Oct. 22).
After the fanfare from his 2008 debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, subsided, Justin Vernon began work on an album that pushed his sound further from its DIY folk roots and into a world of his own. This push was first hinted at with his 2009 EP, Blood Bank, especially in the spare, electronic-driven closer “Woods,” but the true results of his push into the unknown was seen first in his self-titled work Bon Iver.
Released in 2011, the set proved a daring follow up for the artist and producer who, at the time, was still best known for being the Midwestern dude who made a breakup album in the woods. While For Emma, Forever Ago was a Thoreauian effort of self-reflection, situated in one time and place, Bon Iver was an exploration of many places (in fact, all its tracks are named for different cities) and symbols and themes previously untouched by the Wisconsin artist.
Now, 10 years later, Bon Iver’s self-titled work is remembered as a turning point for his career as an artist, even hinting at the experimental, formless direction his music would take later on, with 22, a Million and i,i. With Bon Iver, Vernon no longer was proving himself as he was with For Emma, by 2011, he was eager to push for sounds never heard before.
To commemorate one of his most beloved, career-altering albums, Bon Iver played the first of two shows Friday night at the brand new YouTube Theater at SoFi Stadium. Titled “Sincerely Grateful,” it marked the artist/producer’s first shows post-pandemic, something Vernon acknowledged in between tracks with a laugh, “Hey, how was your last year?” After a string of cancellations around the world during 2020 and 2021, Vernon set was made especially breathtaking with help of L-Acoustics, whose speakers are used in-house at Hollywood Bowl, Coachella, Lollapalooza, and now the YouTube Theater.
The audio company collaborated with the Wisconsinite to provide immersive sound technology. Called L-ISA Hyperreal Sound, Bon Iver’s “Sincerely Grateful” celebratory shows feature ultra high resolution spatial audio that would make any audiophile grin. During tracks like “Perth,” the opener of Bon Iver, every instrument could be heard with sharp clarity, including the dual drum sections which can easily sound muddied.
Along with the sets crisp audio, the lighting direction was perfectly formatted to fit each song. With “715 – CRΣΣKS,” his stark, a cappella confessional, Vernon was spotlighted in a fierce blue and with “Blood Bank,” the stage was lit in bright red with extra lights coordinated to move with the song, accenting its peaks and valleys.
A mix of new and old songs from Bon Iver, the YouTube Theater show felt like Vernon’s way of saying welcome back. With stunning lights and sound, it was a true celebration of Bon Iver 10th anniversary where Vernon pulled out all the stops.
There is another showing of the anniversary show on Saturday at the YouTube Theater, beginning at 8:30 p.m. PT.
Here’s the set list from Friday’s Bon Iver show:
“715 – CRΣΣKS”
“U (Man Like)”
soul, classic soul, motown,