For Bon Iver, fame eases the pain

NORTHAMPTON — Justin Vernon's debut album as Bon Iver, "For Emma, Forever Ago," was primarily written and recorded during a three-month stint in 2006 at a Wisconsin cabin. On indie folk tracks such as "Skinny Love," the album's most well-known tune, the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist's pain is palpable; he's in the bargaining stage, straining to keep dwindling love alive one falsetto at a time.

"Come on skinny love just last the year," Vernon pleads in the song's opening.

Three albums and more than a decade later, Bon Iver is one of the most versatile and popular acts in music, collaborating with Kanye West at times and picking up two Grammy awards and glowing critical acclaim along the way. The 36-year-old even hosts a well-attended music festival, Eaux Claires, in his hometown of Eau Claire, Wis. But sometimes he sounds like he wants to crawl back into the solitude of that 2006 Midwest retreat permanently.

"I have more recognition than I had ever wanted to deal with," he told The New York Times' pop music critic Jon Pareles in 2016 before he released his latest record, "22, a Million."

Despite his newfound fame, Vernon isn't afraid to leave listeners wanting for more. He went five years without producing a record until his fourth one hit stores and streams. He hasn't been a road warrior during that time, either.

Fans pounced on tickets to Bon Iver's Wednesday night concert at Calvin Theatre, Vernon's first Northampton show since 2007. The event is sold out, though a limited amount of tickets will be available on a first-come-first-serve basis at the door, according to the venue's website.

If past stops on the tour are any indication, those in attendance will be treated to a cross-catalog selection of 15-20 Bon Iver tunes that will include multiple tracks from "22, a Million." The album largely ditches the guitar-driven sound of Vernon's initial works for the electronic elements he dabbled with early on. Critics have raved even as some of the lyrics and song titles (the opener is "22 (OVER S N") confound.

"Like the electronics and the typographical-hash song titles, the verbal abstractions are just more masks — Bowie-esque shape-shifting from an artist trying, in his elusive way, to keep things real," writes Will Hermes for Rolling Stone.

The hurt from Vernon's early lyrics is still there, but he appears to have accepted it, as the closing lyrics of his latest album suggest: "It harms, it harms me, it harms, I'll let it in."

Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.


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