Live Review: Bon Iver + Gordi – Aware Super Theatre, Sydney (17.02.23)

Bon Iver

Me (a casual Bon Iver fan actively trying to troll my die-hard Bon Iver fan mate before the show): I really hope he opens with “Skinny Love”. Imagine the scenes. My mate (very matter-of-factly): He won’t open with it. He won’t even play it. Little did we know we’d both be wrong (my mate especially), but Bon Iver was about to play a homecoming show of sorts to a Sydney crowd that’s been waiting patiently for his return to Australia.

Making my way downtown (walking fast) after making the peak-hour dash from the golden plains of Western Sydney on a Friday evening, I arrived at the Aware Super Theatre to the news doors were super early and the only support, Gordi, was already mostly through crushing her set. Choosing to stand at the back of the auditorium so as to not interrupt the intimate vibes Gordi had managed to piece together in the dead quiet room, she closed on “Sandwiches”, a song that undoubtedly holds a special place in the artist’s heart as well as the half full theatre who witnessed her performance. It was haunting and simple, yet holistic in every sense of the word.

Returning to Australian shores, Bon Iver presents the picture of an act who is both supremely confident in their skills, while also simultaneously remaining unsure if the 9,000 paying fans will decide mid song they don’t want to be there anymore. Playing a set spread across four albums and an EP, the 100 minute performance had a little bit for every type of Bon Iver fan, from the passing fan who only knows the singles, through to the avid devotee obsessed with all the deepest of cuts.

Walking on stage and announcing ‘it’s good to be home’, they opened with a new track, “Speyside”, featuring a saxophone and all six band members. It felt illusive, but very Bon Iver-y. Moving into “666 ʇ” and “Faith”, frontman Justin Vernon thanked the crowd for welcoming the band back to the country, while also apologising for the delays making it on stage (‘the back up, of the back up, of the back up failed’). It’s these signs of humility that continued to push through more during the set and won the crowd over (if they already weren’t).

What was evident throughout the set was the progression of Vernon and co’s sound throughout the years, as more experimental sounds and production became more readily used and falsetto became less prevalent. With pickings in the first half of the set including “U (Man Like)”, “Jelmore” and “RABi” (an early highlight), the set was off to a consistent albeit slightly uninspiring start. The crowd was dead quiet (in line with what was witnessed during Gordi’s set). This fed into the cult-of-Bon Iver, but also resulted in a lack of atmosphere throughout the room that usually allows shows to grow organically. This all changed in the second half of the night.

From the moment “Heavenly Father” was played, the scales tipped, more fan favourites made an appearance and the night felt like it was headed in the direction of success. With two drummers playing in-sync, the vibes on stage were lifting, and the crowd became more involved and responsive.

The one-two punch of “Hey, Ma” and “Skinny Love” (I bloody told you it would make an appearance) was undeniably the peak of the night, as fans old and new gravitated toward the comforts of songs they’ve known for more than a decade. It was this familiarity, and Vernon’s willingness to let us indulge in his vocals that really won the night. Going solo on “Re: Stacks” was a nice touch, while the three and half minutes of “33 God” was the crowning glory of a flawless back end of the set.

Closing out the main set with “The Wolves (Act I and II)” reminded me of why I actively sought out For Emma, Forever Ago all those years ago. It was uplifting and wholesome, all the while making you feel incredibly useless and lost. Returning for a short encore including “Naeem” and “Flume”, the band promised they’d be back soon. While it might well prove to be an empty promise, you get the feeling there will always be a place for Bon Iver in Australia.



Bon Iver continues their Australian tour over the coming weeks. For more info, click here.

Header image credit: Jordan Munns