Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Live Review: Bon Iver @ Variety Playhouse 6/7/09


I saw Bon Iver play twice, six days apart. The first was at the Variety Playhouse; the second was a hot, packed, mid-afternoon tent show at Bonnaroo. It was almost the exact same set. Both times, I almost cried. They're that good. If you ever have a chance to attend a concert of theirs, don't think about it. Just go!

For Stomp and Stammer's Tales From The Moshpit:

Bon Iver @ Variety Playhouse, 6/7/09

I don’t know how it happens. I can’t say, because I’ve never done it. I’ve never written songs that were so beautiful on first recording, first conception, that they garnered ecstatic blog attention, that they then made it into the near-mainstream, that they got co-opted by questionable pop culture venues (we’re lookin’ at you, Grey’s Anatomy), that they have somehow become worthy of live alteration, augmentation, jam-outs. I don’t know how a collection of nine songs grows like this. Without too much reference to all the Wisconsin cabin mythology that’s been absolutely beaten to death by the blogosphere, it’s pretty amazing to think of Justin Vernon’s journey, from a down-and-out musician alone with his recording equipment in the winter of 2007 to an indie darling, signed by Jagjaguwar, accompanied by three new bandmates, asked to mix others’ records (like The Daredevil Christopher Wright’s In Defernece To A Broken Back) and getting to contribute to The Red Hot Organization’s much-lauded Dark Was The Night comp.

However it happens, it culminated, for me, with my first Bon Iver show. The Variety Playhouse was sold out, and as always happens on listening to their records, a certain kind of nostalgic calm had settled over the place. It’s like viewing the world through a thin veil that makes everything shinier and warmer at the same time. The set, made up mostly of the majority of debut For Emma, Forever Ago but peppered with numbers from the band’s follow-up EP Blood Bank and “Brackett, WI” from Dark Was The Night, began with “Creature Fear.” Vernon’s voice permeated the crowd like a soul singer’s; the persistent percussion swelled and pushed forward. The songs all took on new life, relying less—necessarily—on the extensive vocal overdubbing that characterizes every Bon Iver recording, and more on sheer instrumental prowess. This was helped along more than a little by the rest of the band (Mike Noyce, Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan), who sometimes played guitar, bass, drums and keys, but sometimes all played drums at the same time. They sang the stacked parts that would’ve been so conspicuously missing without them....[Read more]


(During the Bonnaroo show, the band invited the members of Elvis Perkins in Dearland onstage to perform the horn parts in "For Emma," which was incredible. Also, before performing "Re: Stacks" solo, Vernon said to the audience, "I think I'm gonna hold this beer can between my knees during this whole song. Is that weird?")

1 comment:

SFCritic said...

I have read now several articles reviewing Bon Iver's live performance, none as well written and clear as yours. Thank for a great article.