Friday, October 21, 2011
Bon Iver and the Unexpected Surge of Emotion
Anyone who follows my twitter feed will know I'm a big fan of Bon Iver, and after a gruelling battle against the vicissitudes of fate managed to go see them last night.
I don't get to go to enough gigs, and the ones I do manage to get to are always life changing affairs. Well, maybe not life CHANGING, but definitely life affirming.
For those of you that don't know the music, the first album is heavily reliant on an old creaky acoustic guitar, and one man's lament for loves lived and lost, and the fallout therein.
The second is much more grandiose, with more brass, strings and percussion than the previous offering, layed tastefully down over the tracks in a way that adds to each song without overpowering it. For Emma (,Forever Ago- the first album) was incredibly poignant and tugged at the heart strings. Bon Iver (the second album) is much bolder, and louder, and challenges us musically in a way that could either be a sign of musical growth on Justin's part, or a voicing that actually 'yes, I am much more than the album I wrote on my guitar'. Personally, I'd like to think that it's a little of both.
Hearing live recordings of the earlier tours, he seemed slightly embarrassed by the songs. That embarrassment and almost apologetic humility were gone, and instead we found an air of 'this is us as we are meant to be, we're grateful you're along for the ride'
In terms of setup, they are an amazingly diverse group of musicians, nine in total, with TWO drum kits played the whole night through. This added a gravitas that I haven't heard live before, and redefined for me what was confined to studio recording. There was a full brass section, violins, guitars (both acoustic and electric), tastefully used effects on vox and guitars, miscellaneous extra percussion, keyboard and vocals (at one point with seven singers). I think I saw a glockenspiel too. Anyway, oodles of instruments all performed perfectly, with a coordination that again, I wouldn't have thought would be feasible outside a studio. It felt more like an orchestra than a band.
The one thing that gripped me was that it was one of the quietest gigs I've ever been too. We all remained seated bar the encore, and NOBODY sang along.
This was contrasted with sections that teetered on the edge of Dave Matthews Band-esque freeform jams by everyone at once, leaving the overall impression of strength and subtlety like that of a master pianist. Justin Vernon seems to have mastered the build up and release of tension in his set, and it was nothing short of an experience.
After taking a minute out to talk to the crowd he waded into re:Stacks, and after seeming a little bored with performing it the same old way decided to mix his vocals up a little. After all, it was just him and his guitar. Nobody to keep time with or stick to script with. In that moment, I could see a change in him- he was actually having fun.
There's playing a tight set, and there's kicking out the jams, and in his own way this was the latter, and it was all the better for it.
When it finished, I found myself really sad and dejected, despite experiencing this great performance. It didn't fade instantly either, which took me by suprise.
We kicked back into high gear with Blood Bank (which I don't think the vast majority of the crowd knew) Having been dropped to the floor by Stacks this lifted me up dramatically, aided by an amazing light show to match.. It was like riding a wave of sound, like my soul was screaming. I needed to move, dance, explode. Something. I like that song, but I wasn't prepared for THAT. So, mission accomplished there guys.
Wolves ended the first part of the show, and even if the dry shites beside me weren't singing along I was screaming my head off. It's alright, we were ASKED to. How could you not?
Beautiful, beautiful song, and a perfect example of how to use silence in music.
For the encore they treated us with Skinny Love and finally For Emma, Forever Ago. Skinny love had the ensemble around Justin (bar one of the drummers- the one who provides the main vocal harmonies oddly enough) clapping and singing the accompanying parts. By the time Emma was on, we didn't want it to end, and I think the band may have kept it on for an extra 12 bars for that very reason. For that I'm grateful.
The only downside was that I was there on my own. This was DEFINITELY not helped by the guy on the other side of me who was all over his girlfriend for the whole night. I don't blame him at all though, no better time for it. But anyone who goes to a BON IVER gig alone and doesn't think they'll leave feeling lonely probably hasn't thought things through. I don't regret a second of it though; it was in a word, amazing.
OH and the warmup act Kathleen Edwards was pretty damn cool. The warmup sketches above are from memory of her lads playing away.