Show Review From Last Weeks Concert
Pat Dowell is the newest writer here at A/C. He recently saw the Bon Iver show at the Vic. Here is his thoughts.
About twenty minutes before the doors opened for the Bon Iver concert there was a distinguishable buzz amongst the thirty or so people huddled against the building in the twenty-degree weather. The excitement generated by the show was enough to keep the thinly clad hipsters was enough to take their minds off of the frigid cold. Bon Iver, the moniker for Justin Vernon, has quickly risen to popularity in the indie/alternative crowd, due in part to the strength of the debut album For Emma, Forever Ago which has already made several Top Ten Lists, as well as the romantic story of where the album was conceived and born.
Vernon has been creating music since he was a teenager, but like many young artists, he was struggling to find his voice. He took a logical, albeit drastic step to perfect his craft. Vernon retreated to his father’s cabin in Wisconsin to escape distraction and devote his time towards completing a catalogue of songs. He emerged with For Emma and some additional material that will be released early in 2009 on the Blood Bank EP. When the album was first picked up by Jagjaguwar and released in early 2008, Bon Iver became one of the most anticipated albums of the year, and Vernon and company delivered.
The hype surrounding Bon Iver is one of the rare instances in modern music where every single accolade is deserved. debut album For Emma, Forever Ago is near perfection. Each song developed and recorded in his father’s cabin in Wisconsin. The focus and care put into the album is not only admirable, it is an act of love and dedication that is refreshing in an era of music being engineered mostly on computers. The sound Vernon crafted translates well to the stage.
The heart that Vernon put into For Emma is equal to the heart that the band puts into a live performance. The songs Vernon recorded in the cabin now had the benefit of a full band and an energetic crowd. The soft, wispy songs off of the album took on a new, robust strength while still retaining the vulnerability of the album’s intimate setting. The real power of the concert certainly had something to do with the season. Christmas was one week away, the weather outside the Vic was horrible, and more bad weather was on the way. But while we were inside the Vic, we were transported to Vernon’s cabin in Wisconsin. We sat at the fireplace, and watched as he carefully crafted each song and performed them with love and tenderness. It was like being a kid on a snow day; while the world dissolved into a cloud of white and gray chaos, we watched comfortably through a window, loving the fact that we were where we were. Bon Iver (a French term meaning "good winter") had that same quality. The same instinct to be calm and watch a winter storm fell over the sold out auditorium during the eleven song set. No one could speak during the songs; the experience could not be put into words.
The set list was mostly comprised of songs from For Emma, but included three songs off of Blood Bank (see the set list below). The audience was very tame during each song, only singing to "Skinny Love," a cover of the Outfield’s "Use Your Love," and "Wolves (Acts I & II)." The sing along during "Wolves" was the climax of the concert, with Vernon getting every person in the Vic to sing "What might have been lost," several times before whipping the crowd into a fever pitch and imploring all of us to scream our lungs out. After the song was done, Vernon and company thanked the crowd, and walked off the stage to raucous applause.
The experience in the Vic was far different than I had expected. While listening to For Emma earlier in the day, I envisioned an intimate performance, complete with assigned seating and a very calm crowd. I was having a conversation with a fan, Matt, who traveled from Holland, Michigan to see the show, about the other venues Bon Iver could play. I mentioned the Riviera and laughed at the notion of Vernon and friends playing a sold out show at the Vic. Bon Iver shattered every preconceived notion I had and displayed prowess of a veteran road band, not an up and coming indie group.
The crowd was beyond loud. The auditorium was ear splitting. It may have been an illusion due to the fact that for the first hour of the concert, the crowd watched in ghost town silence. Regardless, as soon as Vernon and the band regrouped on stage, the Vic erupted into deafening praise of what they had just seen. Vernon thanked the audience again before playing one final song ("Blood Bank" off of the EP) and leaving once and for all. He took his time saying thank and goodbye once the song was over. He was not only appreciative of the fans of his music, he was happy because of them. He saw that the risk in going to his father’s cabin paid off and that he had done something wonderful for thousands of people.
The overall experience of the show was incredible. It certainly was a wonderful high note to end the year on, and it creates expectations for what Vernon and the band can come up with next. If For Emma met and exceeded those expectations, then Bon Iver is in a good, warm place.
Setlist (Bon Iver 12/18):
Lump Sum For Emma Babys Creature Fear Skinny Love Beach Baby Re: Stacks Use Your Love (Outfield Cover) Flume The Wolves (Act I & II) Blood Bank
Use Your Love (Outfield Cover)
The Wolves (Act I & II)
Note: Because Bon Iver was too much to talk about, I didn’t mention the opener The Tallest Man on Earth, who was pretty solid. Imagine Fionn Regan with a "salt of the earth" type voice and you get the idea. He suffered from the crowd’s excitement to see Bon Iver, but he held his own very well in a thrity minute set.