Rachel Bache is an entertainment writer for the New Zealand Herald.

Concert review: Bon Iver presents CERCLE, Vivid Live Sydney

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Justin Vernon of Bon Iver with The Staves in London. File photo / Getty Images
Justin Vernon of Bon Iver with The Staves in London. File photo / Getty Images

Crowds gathered at the Sydney Opera House this weekend to see Justin Vernon bring Bon Iver back to the stage.

Kicking off Vivid Live - the music portion of the annual Vivid Sydney, lights, music and ideas festival - Bon Iver wowed with his CERCLE performance. CERCLE, meaning circle in French, saw the Grammy winning artist delve back into some of his most popular songs in the round of the Opera House. Underneath a giant circular installation of hanging white strands of material, Bon Iver was accompanied by a four-piece backing band and three female singers that make up British trio The Staves. They all stood facing each other throughout the night, switching instruments from song to song, bringing guitars, a double bass, a saxophone, xylophones, synths, two mirrored grand pianos, and twin drum kits to life.

From the moment Vernon stepped on to the stage, performing Woods, his heavily auto-tuned, yet hauntingly beautiful track sampled by Kanye West, it was clear that fans were in for a treat.

His concert was a retrospective look at some of his best work from his self-titled album, and For Emma, Forever Ago, as well as songs from his EPs - with many of them receiving a live twist.

Jazz took over at one point according to Vernon, who revealed that he has hurt one of his fingers while smashing piano keys haphazardly, creating a disjointed sound alongside his fellow bandmate who was doing the same. The noises they were creating swirled and repelled from each other, before coming together again on other more harmonious notes.

I Can't Make You Love Me/Nick of Time and Holocene had the crowd mesmerised. The saxophone came in at perfect moments during the night, including a duet with an auto-tuned synth machine, which created a sound that sounded almost like an accordion. In other songs The Staves' layered vocals swelled behind Vernon's voice, adding depth to the delightful performance, they played one of the trio's original works, Steady.

Lighting helped set a magical mood during the concert. Lights were arranged around Bon Iver and his band in a circle, at times shining directly up and down through the curtain like strings above them, while other lights came in from the sides, creating swirls of colour through the overhead objects. At other moments the lights would flash and dance around the room. During quieter moments, there would simply be the warm glow of oversized lightbulbs surrounding the stage.

The indie folk artist stripped things back for fan favourites Re:Stack and Skinny Love; the latter earned him a standing ovation from his adoring fans.

Bon Iver was experimental and bold with his CERCLE show, breaking the norms of what people would usually discover during a concert. His addition to the Vivid Live line-up was perfect and has set the tone for the rest of the festival.

Who: Bon Iver presents CERCLE
What: Vivid Live
Where: Sydney Opera House, Sydney, Australia
When: May 27 - 30

The writer travelled to Sydney courtesy of Destination New South Wales and Vivid Sydney.

- nzherald.co.nz

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