Monday, Sept. 28

The increasingly acclaimed Bon Iver—aka Justin Vernon—brought his folkloric feel to a Rialto Theatre brimming with fans eager to hear what the buzz was all about. Vernon's former bandmates in DeYarmond Edison, who currently constitute Megafaun, had the charge of warming up the streaming-in crowd.

Three shaggy men, two of them brothers, walked onstage right out of O Brother, Where Art Thou? Referring to themselves as Vernon's "hired help," they won over the horde quickly with backwoods harmonies, beautiful melodies and an array of banjo, guitar and mandolin. The hour set preposterously ended with a Hendrix-esque escapade of distortion. Megafaun clearly had a wicked sense of self-deprecating humor, throwing out a Deliverance reference, a nod to their recent Club Congress show and an idea for a T-shirt: "More Banjo, Less Pants."

Bon Iver sounds sublime on his records. His cathartic cabin-in-the-woods release, 2007's For Emma, Forever Ago, is already the stuff of legend, with its pitched, tracked vocals, austere instruments and lyrical prose. But can a troubadour like Vernon translate the intimate material live, and command a cavernous venue? The answer is yes: The virtuoso surpassed wildest expectations, and a tremendous PA system proved a perfect conduit for Vernon's phenomenal style—a minimalist approach in which less equals much more. There were moments of utter silence as the crowd fixated on Vernon's voice.

Opener "Skinny Love" had three drummers pounding singular beats in unison, as Vernon strummed an elegant steel guitar. He pulled material from the Emma and the Blood Bank EP, and threw in a few unfamiliar songs, including a psychedelic jam. Vernon nailed the vocal harmonies by employing three instrument-jumping backup players, all of whom sang amazingly, meshing with his trademark falsetto.

Bon Iver was extremely gracious to Tucson, the venue and the fans, comically stating that we were "polite and energetic, a Venn diagram that's blowing my mind." After an encore of "The Wolves," in which he got the crowd to sing along in a crescendo, he was joined for a second encore by Megafaun. The two bands unplugged, came front and center stage, and played a beautiful Megafaun song dedicated to the drummer's wife. At this point, the concert felt more like a tent revival, the spirit of which wafted outside, onto Congress Street.


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