Bon Iver at Coachella, April 21, 2012

Timothy Norris
Bon Iver

by Molly Bergen

Bon Iver
April 21, 2012

Better than…trying to dance off your sunburn.

Flickering strands of glowing balloons swayed gently over the polo fields as the crowd drew in for Bon Iver's set on the main stage yesterday evening. Sunburnt and spent, these half-naked revelers came to be calmed by Justin Vernon's falsetto after a long hard day of dancing. It's not easy frolicking in 100 degree temperatures all day in nothing but gauzy underclothes and dusty flip flops, Fortunately, then, Bon Iver was just the ticket. A huge crowd sprawled out on the grass studded with cigarette butts, water bottles, and the occasional pile of god-knows-what under a ceiling of search lights.


In his first Coachella performance under the guise of Bon Iver (and not singing back up for Kanye West), Justin Vernon looked confident. Surrounded by a flood of mini lamp posts that glowed deep amber, and his giant band behind him, he looked perfectly at ease. As he should be; the man has earned a little swagger after winning a Grammy and touring heavily for the past three years.

The set was a mix of his first album about breakups past, For Emma, Forever Ago, and his second self-titled (and much more polished) affair. Jumping from hope to heartbreak to falling in love at a blood bank (of all places), Vernon's storytelling glistened in the balmy night air. Tattooed ladies with parasol umbrellas perched on their fingertips swayed and danced to “Skinny Love” and “Perth” while tiny children in their pastel summer shorts ran circles around their parents 'blankets.

Vernon's sweet falsetto paired beautifully with the horn section like tango partners, each one taking turns with the lead, dictating where the song would go. Occasionally during great swells of emotion, guitars would break through melody with authority, stomping everything in their way, and stealing the spotlight. So much so that we couldn't help wondering if there's a rock album in Bon Iver's future.

The evening ended not with one of his hits, as everyone had supposed. One can only assume that the reason Bon Iver didn't close with the epic, crowd-empowering “The Wolves (Act I & II)” as he did last Saturday night, was for variety. Either that or the heat really got to him today. No, instead he went with his auto-tuned bowl of mush “Woods.”

Don't get us wrong, we're all for experimenting with your set list, but to use that as a closer is just crazy. He might as well have shot the crowd in the ass with a horse tranquilizer. C'mon Vernon. Dazzle us. We want to shower you with applause, but a slow number at the end isn't going to get the job done.

Personal bias: I was exhausted from dancing all day and all I wanted to do was lie on my back and watch stars twinkle. Bon Iver is a perfect act for doing just that.

Overheard in the crowd: “Is that Cake? It sounds like Cake,” wondered a pimply youngster. We successfully restrained ourselves from yelling back “It's NOT CAKE.”

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