Bon Iver arrived peak heatwave on Monday, August 13, as Santa Barbarans sweated their way up the steps of the Santa Barbara Bowl, clutching cold drinks, hoping for a musical reprieve. Thankfully, they got more than just that — it was a multifaceted journey that seesawed between moments of electronic madness and simplified acoustic crooning.
Exploring and intertwining these fringes has become a recent hallmark of Justin Vernon, Bon Iver’s lead singer. But pulling this act off in a massive, open-air venue such as the Bowl provides obvious challenges: Would cacophonous tracks like “10 d E A T h b R E a s T” just sound messy? Would the quiet songs like “Holocene” lose their nostalgic intimacy? Amazingly, the answer was no in both cases. Chalk it up, perhaps, to a new sound system Bon Iver was using called L-ISA Hyperreal Sound, which is described as a way to achieve a wider sonic panorama. And that it did.
I have often walked out of Bowl performances with that shrugging sense of feeling half-detached from the music, as if it was just always over there. But Bon Iver’s show elevated my notion of what Bowl shows can be. And by the time the night settled in, and Vernon finished his encore with “re: Stacks,” the crowd walked away feeling generously cooled off and gratefully filled up with Bon Iver’s capacious array of styles.