When Bon Iver burst onto the scene back in 2008, the legend of Justin Vernon’s reclusive stint alone in the deep woods of Wisconsin threatened to overshadow the quirky, sensitive songs that made their debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, so memorable. But since then, as the initially isolated pockets of Bon Iver fans have grown into today’s legions, such early songs as “Re: Stacks,” “Creature Fear,” and “Skinny Love” have become anthems, and the large audiences who now attend Bon Iver concerts no longer require any encouragement to sing along with the words that so many have learned by heart.
On Sunday night at the Bowl, the band emerged nine strong to play nearly two hours of smart orchestral pop under an intriguing proscenium of artfully torn burlap while lit by dozens of digital votive candles that were augmented by occasional bursts from strobe lights. While Vernon’s distinctive falsetto continues to anchor the Bon Iver sound, today, as on the group’s spectacularly successful self-titled follow-up album, that voice is likely to be not just accompanied by acoustic guitar and drums, but also buried in multiple layers of brass, winds, strings, and synthesizers.
Humble to a fault, Vernon seemed abashed to be headlining the Bowl just a few years after parking his van on Haley Street in front of Muddy Waters for a gig. Despite the elegance and sophistication of the sweeping arrangements on the more recent tunes, the night’s most memorable moments came when Vernon stepped out solo for “Re: Stacks.”