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"They really push you guys in here," said Justin Vernon, the newly raised indie-music darling. He was speaking of the full house, squeezed tight, calves at the trough. Later, he noticed that it was his audience that was hard at work. Commenting on the crowded room, he told his fans that they had a "much harder job" than he did.

Which was absolutely true.

Vernon, the sensitive Wisconsin troubadour who calls his music vehicle Bon Iver (pronounced "bone of air"), sings in a silvery, airy falsetto. His lyrics, though undoubtedly sincere, are overly poetic and not easy to parse even when the words are identifiable. His albums have thoughtful commas in their titles. But his voice, which gleamed like slivers of sunlight through a folk-orchestra mist, was wasted in the boxy, chattering big bar by the lake.

Was Massey Hall occupied? Other tour dates find Bon Iver in better houses.

Vernon and his eight-piece band opened with Perth, a delicate mix of a military snare drum and heavenly sounds that rose increasingly bolder. Lyrics concerning "a mother, out a moth, furling forests for the soft," would have stood out to only those who knew them by heart.

Many, of course, did. It did seem, though, that the songs from Bon Iver's lonely heartbeat of a debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago, were cheered with more adoration than the 2010 follow-up, Bon Iver, Bon Iver.

The exception would have been Calgary, "sorta about a town in Canada," according to the man who would know. The single, like most of the tracks off Bon Iver, Bon Iver, is named after a location, which represents something different than simple MapQuest geography – a sense of place. Calgary began sparsely and softly, before picking up the layers, drums and pace of something from TV on the Radio.

The main set began with the opening tracks to Bon Iver, Bon Iver, a record dedicated to a bigger, more textured presentation than its intimate predecessor, which was written in a cabin, post-heartbreak. Brass, strings, soft crescendos, double drums and Montreal-based Colin Stetson's bazooka of a saxophone all figured.

Of the older material, For Emma benefited most from Bon Iver's bigger membership. It took on a hazy ambience, one eventually broken by a bust-out of Tijuana brass.

A solo offering, re: Stacks, from the first album, offered a glimpse of a different kind of concert. Where the material of Bon Iver, Bon Iver is all about expansion in sound and outlook – out of the woods comes a new, bigger and healed man – re: Stacks finds Vernon in a dark mood, strumming an electric guitar alone, "this is pouring rain, this is paralyzed." This, I might add, is the stuff of Dallas Green and his lovely sad ilk.

The songs of For Emma, Forever Ago are often despairing, but the hit Skinny Love, the first of three encore offerings, had a smiling, strummed bounce to it. Shiny, happy (young and often female) people clapped along with the band and sung along to Vernon's melodic "my, my, mys." It was if the members of the audience were out of the packed barn and back into their co-ed dorms, hearing Vernon where he is probably better heard, and where enjoying him isn't hard work at all, quite the contrary.

Bon Iver

  • At Sound Academy
  • in Toronto on Monday

Bon Iver plays Vancouver's Orpheum Theatre on Aug. 25.