Many people don’t like to like Bon Iver. They argue that Justin Vernon’s songs make them cry, that his words remind them of love-lost and interminable heartache and for this reason they turn up their tormented noses when Bon Iver comes up in conversation (which lately, is quite often.) Truthfully, these individuals are captivated by the work of Bon Iver – the complex melodies, Vernon’s deep voice and his simple, poetic words; their feigned dislike stems from unresolved feelings towards whoever caused their most recent heartbreak, right? When Bon Iver speaks, everyone listens.

At the heart of the project is singer and song-writer Justin Vernon, whose name is virtually synonymous with Bon Iver, an American folk act that actually consists of numerous outstanding performers including Michael Noyce, Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan. Earlier this month, Bon Iver graced the stage of Montreal’s Métropolis, performing for a sold-out, packed venue of die-hard, full-beard-and-suspenders-toting fans – an overall attractive crowd (if I do say so myself), not unlike the babes on stage (Hi, Justin!)

Interestingly, I don’t think anyone quite knew what to expect from Bon Iver. Was Vernon going to sit on a stool with his guitar for the majority of the night? Would there be an accompanying band? Lights? Bon Iver stepped forward with – what was, essentially – a full orchestra of kick-drums, a violin, a keyboard, a trumpet (or two?), guitars and a team of vocalists. The show opened with a jaw-dropping rendition of Perth, from the latest album Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Vernon’s astounding voice, combined with poignant instrumentals and an unexpected dramatic light show immediately set the tone for the evening, and altogether stole my ability to speak or think for the duration of the performance.

Highlights of the show included numerous instrumental interludes featuring hypnotic lights and vocals, the most extraordinary, encore acappella rendition of Skinny Love (a gorgeous song about cautious love between friends – hello, relevant life) and an audience-participatory finale of Wolves (Act I and II). From the climactic Creature Fear to the more subdued re: Stacks, Bon Iver’s set list consisted of the new album in its entirety, and the most acclaimed of Vernon’s older work. Montreal’s best show of the year? Oh yes, I would go that far.

After Bon Iver left the stage, my friends and I accidentally held hands as we burst out onto the street, happier – though slightly more melancholic – versions of ourselves. Bon Iver’s symphonies do have that effect, don’t they?

Listen to a recent CBC Radio interview with Justin Vernon here.

Watch a brilliant and spontaneous performance by Bon Iver on the side streets of Paris here.

~ Tyler Yank