Wow, I'm such a slacker. I've been absent from the blog for a while...my last post was mid-July! But, I'm happy to say that my return is a live review of none other than Bon Iver.
Over the last year, Bon Iver has blown up. Between rolling with Kanye, having "Skinny Love" covered for a CW show, and being featured on the soundtrack for one of the Twilight movies, their music is everywhere. Oh, and their sophomore album reached #2 on the US charts. Naturally, when we heard they were performing in nearby Holyoke, MA, we jumped on the chance to get tickets for the performance. Here's what I've got to say about it...
My expectations were incredibly high. I consider For Emma to be a modern classic and the follow-up released this June is easily one of the best of the year. A friend of Andrew's recently saw them on this tour and had nothing but great things to say. Though I was confident it wouldn't be the case, I had a slight fear that I was putting this show on a pedestal that couldn't be reached. Boy, was I proven so, so wrong.
I was interested in seeing how the lush soundscapes would be recreated in a live setting, especially the new material. To achieve this feat, Justin Vernon was backed up by eight other musicians, most of whom having multiple roles. Both backing guitarists played the violin (one might have actually been a viola). The bassist also pulled duty on the saxophone, and some other brass instrument that I couldn't recall from elementary school music class. The keyboardist doubled up with the trumpet (sometimes playing the keys with one hand and the trumpet with the other). There was a musician devoted to brass, swapping out various instruments throughout the performance. Additionally, there were three percussionists. Two were on drum sets, while the third had a miscellaneous rig, featuring chimes, various bells, shakers, etc. The third percussionist also played trombone and what looked like a flugelhorn (I really have no idea, I just wanted to say that word). Oh, and they all sang, beautifully, in glorious harmony.
One of my concerns was if the intimacy of Bon Iver's music would translate in such a large space. The venue at Mountain Park is in a huge open field, surrounded by woods, nestled in a lot that belonged to an old amusement park (certainly no soirée de poche at this place). The only cover from the elements is above the stage for the band. Again, my concerns were unfounded and despite the expansive space, the music was visceral. Vernon's falsetto cut straight through you. There were times his voice was so honest, and so hurt, that it almost sounded like he was going to breakdown and cry on stage. With such sincerity, it's safe to say that all the fame, album sales, friends in high places, and late night TV appearances have not gone to his head; Vernon seems to be an incredibly humble musician, truly thankful for having the opportunity to share his stories with the masses.
The performance of "Holocene", my personal favorite off the new disc, was breathtaking.
A rousing, full-band performance of "Blood Bank", straight into Vernon being left alone on stage to perform an absolutely soul-crushing rendition of "Flume". Definitely the best part of the main set.
And of course, the encore. The front of the crowd was restricted to sitting in their seats for the entire main set. When it came time for the encore, there was no chance of the meager security preventing everyone's urge to get as close as possible, so as many people that could fit rushed in and filled the gap between the stage and the first row of seats. Vernon came out, picked up his guitar, sat down on his stool and started strumming the opening chords to "Skinny Love". His bandmates, whom all ditched their instruments (minus one drummer), came out and stood directly behind him to perform the backing vocals. When the first "my, my, my..." was sung, I got goosebumps. At this point, the sky started to open up a little, bringing a steady rain, adding the atmosphere. I first thought it was an interesting choice to open the encore with "Skinny Love", but by the time the end of "The Wolves" began, I fully understood the artist's choice in song order. Increasing volume with each measure, the audience went from whispering, "What might have been lost...", to yelling in beautiful unison, surely waking any sleeping creatures slumbering in the nearby trees.
The moment was everything live music should be. Raw, honest, unbridled emotion filled the field of Mountain Park. As the rain started to come down harder and harder, I thought to myself this night is perfect.
The Wolves (Act I and II)
And a live video of "Skinny Love" from the show. Not the best visual quality, but the sound is solid.