(photos: Graham Tolbert)
“Imagine talking to this many people. It just feels ridiculous…or stupid,” Justin Vernon said to applause and laughter, just after his band had gotten through a forceful reworking of “Towers” from their 2011 self-titled album at the Chase Arena. Therein lies the bewildering feeling underlying this Bon Iver show — thousands of people in attendance, all just about as surprised as the people on stage themselves, that a band that makes such fiercely intimate music is now playing gigantic arena shows.
Bon Iver opened with the first three songs from their new album i,i and continued to thread the rest of its tracklisting into their set. Fan favorites “Re: Stacks,” “Lump Sum,” and “Perth” appeared throughout the evening, alongside music from their similarly electronic/bombastic 2016 album 22, A Million. Many of these songs took on a new life in a live set: “666 ʇ” with its guitar and groove-based percussive interplay between Justin Vernon and drummer/multi-instrumentalist S. Carey. Sort-of deep cut “Heavenly Father” appeared as well, reimagined with lush drums and a large-scale arrangement.
But the biggest surprise of the evening came when Justin stepped on stage, alone, to begin the encore with a solo rendering of “Woods.” Moments like this, as “ridiculous” as it may sound, can shrink an arena down into a conversation between the artist and a single audience member. And that feels good now, don’t it.