Music review: Bon Iver

Lead singer-songwriter Justin Vernon of Bon Iver
Lead singer-songwriter Justin Vernon of Bon Iver
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ANYONE who who witnessed Nick Cave’s performance at Glasgow’s Hydro on Wednesday and then took in the second Edinburgh show in as many days by Wisconsin electro-folk trio Bon Iver might have considered the latter – whose leader Justin Vernon is, admittedly, 24 years Cave’s junior – to be novices in the field of elegiac male soul-baring on a concert hall stage.

Edinburgh Playhouse ****

Yet there’s no doubt that Bon Iver are big-league artists, and that two more decades of pushing themselves should reap captivating results. They drew their set here from their three albums to date, and while the delicate folksiness of Flume (with added harp) and The Wolves (Act I & II) from 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago sounded gorgeous in this setting - as did the light and almost danceable beat of Minnesota, WI from 2011’s self-titled follow-up - their newest material from last year’s 22, A Million represented a quantum leap into a new sound for a new era.

The trio – Vernon on piano and guitar, Sean Carey on drums and Michael Lewis on multiple instruments, including delicate and haunting saxophone – were picked out of the darkness by highly effective spotlighting, and the icy, lost tone of their singer’s voice was lent a synthetic, millennial air by heavy electronic treatment on the a cappella 715 (Creeks) or the chill machine effects on 22 (Over Soon) and 10 (Death Breast). Pointing us to the stall for the Young Women’s Movement on the way out (Vernon: “These people are fighting for other people’s basic freedoms…we’re only playing guitar”), they felt like a band for their times, still unravelling their own history.

DAVID POLLOCK