The journey from a snow-covered cabin in Wisconsin to the stage at the London Forum this evening may have been daunting for some, but not for Justin Vernon. With an effortless élan Vernon took his rustic, threadbare tales of rural life and transformed them into a rollicking live show – ready for consumption on one of the most demanding stages in the capital.

According to rumour, Vernon ensconced himself for four snowy months in a secluded cabin during the recording of Bon Ivor's debut album – 'For Emma, Forever Ago' – following the break-up of his former band, DeYarmond Edison. Here he honed his world-worn view of the world. Nature was closely incorporated into the album, giving it a natural, earthy fell. In the flesh, however, the bank is enlivened and invigorated, reveling in their spotlight and a totally different proposition from what the album would have us expect.

Gone are the soft vocal wisps, and lavish embellishments of the recorded form. In their place remains a fully-formed rock band - imagine My Morning Jacket before they succumb to reggae indulgence. Slowing rocking, with precision and aplomb. That is not to say the power and character of Vernon's voice have been diluted. The attributes that make Bon Iver such an interesting proposition on a record remain live. It just that everything has been manipulated and exaggerated for the stage.

'For Emma' – the title track of the group's album – receives warm applause this evening, as though the audience is relieved the emotional weight has been lifted from their shoulders. Staring directly back into the eyes of 3,000 viewers Vernon is able to capture the desolate loneliness which infuses the album – but transform it into a form of catharsis and exoneration – offering a form of escape as much to himself as the audience. With Sean Carey on percussion and Mike Noyce on bass the group form a tight unit – allowing the original tracks to flow and accentuate themselves.

All too quickly the performance is over. In comparison with the headliners, Iron and Wine – Bon Iver look fresh and ready for the success which seems to await them. Iron and Wine look tired and a little forlorn. Unexpectedly the group – which is essentially a vehicle for the music of Samuel Beam – has also succumbed to some rock excess. The usual band has been bloated by the addition of accordion, keyboards and strings, none of which gel in any recognizable fashion, leaving the group's material to wander endlessly and forlornly. In this context Bon Iver look bright and ready. Big things await.

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