Bon Iver and Feist use the immediacy of live performance to make their songs swell with much greater intensity. And though the (sadly unfilled) Convention Center Arena might seem like an awkward venue, the cavernous space is well-suited for the sound of both bands.
Feist came bounding onto the stage first, opening with a rocking version of "Undiscovered First." With a trio of backup singers in flowing dresses, and backed nimble multi-instrumentalists, Feist ran through 13 songs, mostly from last year's Metals ("How Come You Never Go There," "Graveyard" and "A Commotion") and 2007's The Reminder (the amazing "I Feel It All," a jagged, psychedelic rendition of "My Moon My Man" and the closing "Sealion").
Bon Iver took the stage—with elaborate candle-like lighting framed by netting draped from above—and began with a trio of songs from its Grammy-winning self-titled album: military marching drums guiding a bombastic rendition of "Perth," the effervescent "Minnesota, WI" and "Towers," with its chiming guitar and Southwestern horns.
The nine-member band features two drummers and a field of multi-instrumentalists, which gives Justin Vernon the power to deconstruct earlier songs like "Flume" live, injecting an experimental break into the high-and-lonesome acoustic song.
The gorgeous "Holocene" started the show's strongest stretch (while drawing out numerous cell-phone videographers) with a segue that featured saxophonist Colin Stetson detouring into avant-garde jazz. After the rest of the band joined in a burst of noise, they launched into the pulsating "Blood Bank," with the stage bathed in red lights. After that spellbinding cacophony, the rest of the band left the stage to Vernon, alone under four spotlights, for the aching, fragile "Re:Stacks," the last song he recorded in his Wisconsin cabin before emerging with his breakthrough album, For Emma, Forever Ago.
"Skinny Love" was unmistakable from the opening steel-guitar strums. All but the horn players joined in the distraught chorus, and pushed by booming drums, the sound built like a gathering storm.
The encore featured the crowd sing-along of "The Wolves (Act I and II)" and the bright horns of "For Emma," both songs that capture Bon Iver's essence by pairing intimacy with a grand, expansive sound.