Bon Iver at the O2, Dublin on Monday the 12th of November 2012

About six years ago, so the story goes, a girl called Emma broke up with a boy called Justin. Justin was suitably heartbroken but instead of wallowing in his depression, he fled to the country and holed up in a cabin in the woods for the winter wallowing writing songs. Those songs became ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ and Justin Vernon picked up a few friends and called his band Bon Iver. Monday night that band took to the stage of The O2, Dublin .

Ragged cloth overhangs the light bulb littered stage as the now nine-piece band entered and bathe in green light, quietly picked up their instruments and started into Perth. It’s slow and sombre until the drums kick in the latter half. Now there is power and, as the spectacular light show also begins, it becomes a glorious assault on the senses.

We are pounded by lights, sounds and almost indecipherable lyrics for most of the show. It never becomes tiresome however, but an experience of full immersion into the music. The crowd don’t sing along, dance or clap. It would be redundant here. There is little they can do but sit back (or stand back as the case may be) and take as much of it in as they possibly can.

Even for some of the more stripped back songs, like Wash. or re: Stacks – for which most of the band leaves and Vernon alone is joined by Staves, who played a pretty but forgettable set in support – are somehow overwhelming and, despite the thousands of others in attendance, intimate. Emotion is transmitted so readily throughout the entire show that, at points, it becomes hard to keep from welling up, while at other points, tears flow freely. The fantastic Skinny Love, in particular, brings chills.

It may seem depressing or boring, but it’s somehow beautiful and uplifting. Even if your concentration strays from the music or the light show, it is only because you have been transported in your own world of thought and self-reflection. Songs like Blood Bank, the closest thing to ‘rock’ music played in the set, are thrown in every now and again to kick some energy back into the room.

The set as a whole, which lasted nearly two hours, seems like a contemplative walk through an enchanted forest: an image helped by the stage set-up. With a cover of Bjork’s Who Is It possibly the only mis-step of the night, we emerge at the other end – The Wolves (Act I and II) finishing the night – emotionally drained, tired, yet empowered. It may not be correct to call Bon Iver live a religious experience, but it’s not far off. It’s certainly closer than nearly every other live act out there.

Bon Iver Photo Gallery

Photos: Owen Humphreys