Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bon Iver - Fall 2009

Bon Iver is one of those bands that I fell quickly in love with at the beginning of 2008 and had been dying to see in concert.  Unfortunately the city of Phoenix was apparently not at the top of their tour list for quite awhile.

But finally, finally!  Two Arizona dates in the fall of 2009.  I knew I had to go to both.  I drove to Tucson on a Monday night to see them at the Rialto, a great venue that I hadn't yet visited.  I knew the vibe would be completely different the next night at the Mesa Arts center, which is also a beautiful venue, but all seated, more suited for a performance of a play.  A little stifling for a band.

I remember the experience very well, but instead of trying to write it all again, I'll share an email that I wrote to friends that same week.  The only thing better than two nights in a row would've been the Hollywood cemetery show that I would've literally have died to be at.

Night 1.
The Rialto.

Seats in the back, sloping floor standing room in the front.  Full, yet not crowded.  Lots of men with beards, both on stage and off.  

We walked in as Megafaun was nearing the end of their set, in the middle of some – let’s just hit our instruments around, let the sound echo, ring some bells and see what it sounds like for several minutes – noise.  My sidekick, Tedd, remarked that the drummer was a doppelganger for Jesus.  Couldn’t really get into them, until their last number showed some signs of actual talent, with simple guitars and down-home sounds, not too unlike Fleet Foxes.  Mental note that it’d be okay to show up late the following night.

Bon Iver on stage is not just about Justin Vernon.  The four guys came out, manned each of their stations and the music was built on four solid towers of sound.  Opened with Skinny Love.  All beating drums.  All singing - solidly.  The crowd whooped and hollered a bit, yet maintained this incredible sense of reverent enthusiasm during the whole show. 

I had charged up my camera, cleared the memory card, ready to basically record it all.  The atmosphere was far too respectful, I couldn’t bring myself to bring out my even tiny camera and disturb the peace.  We were all too in awe to think of moving.  At certain points I couldn’t breathe.  I cried twice.  You just have to close your eyes and take it all in.

Little Mike proved to be the standout in the band.  He sang a track alone.  Played multiple guitars, the fiddle, percussion,  and didn’t look older than 17.   

Creature Fear was incredible live.  On the album it fades into the next track Team and ends with some quiet whistling.  I got a little worried in the middle when Bon Iver ventured off into the Megafaun territory I first encountered – just letting things run wild, guitars ringing, making all sorts of racket.  But slowly they started pulling it all back together into this incredible ending, a deep bass sound shoving it all into the room, demanding attention.  I held my breath until the end – it was amazing. 

Two dissonant keyboards started Babys – a song about science, Justin said. Specifically, reproduction.  Ha. It worked well on stage.

Blood Bank was louder, heavier than on disc.  I think I almost liked it more - they rocked out.  I preferred Lump Sum on the disc.  There are some subtle chord resolutions that I love in that song that just aren't as clear on stage.

I hadn’t heard Bracket, WI, yet (it’s on a compilation), but it was a nice surprise.

Justin took the stage alone for Re:Stacks.  Even though I’ve looked up lyrics to this song 1623 times, I still don’t know the words to the chorus.  Thankfully it was too mesmerizing; no one wanted to add their own voice to the track.  This is one that brought the tears.  The last line gets my every time.  If you don't know what it is, I suggest you listen right now.

We sang along to The Wolves, the last of their official set.  what might've been lost...what might've been lost....

Encore started with For Emma.  I have a new appreciation for that track now.  It's just groovy. With all your lies, you've still very lovable.

Then Megafaun joined them on stage to wish us good night, reminding us to ease our Worried Minds.

Night 2.
Mesa Arts Center.

Night two was almost too quiet, inherent in the venue choice.  You’re ushered to your seat in the dark by some retirees, almost having to wait until a break between songs until you’re allowed to enter.  Felt like a stuffy opera performance.  Everyone is seated and shushed.  When the lights come on, it’s weird to be surrounded by hipsters and teenagers when you’re expecting senior citizen symphony patrons.

Caught the end of Megafaun again, they had dropped the weirdness and were better on the second round. 

Set list was switched up by Bon Iver.  No banging drums on Skinny Love to kick it off, I think it might’ve been Flume, easing us in. The venue almost demanded it that way.  Though I thought the sound wasn’t as clear – more room to echo, more amps to blend things together.  I think I prefer the first night’s experience. 

Despite the plethora of no audio or video recording signs everywhere, I had to somehow capture the night.  Forgive the covert camera quality.

Only one guy in the audience was on his feet the whole time.  I’m sure everyone behind him loved that.  Finally JV asked us to stand and sing along to The Wolves. 

EP, there’s not a lot of material.  They even admitted not knowing how to play a couple songs – they’d work on it and come back next go round.

Until then I’ll have the video to tide me over.  Truly amazing.  I don’t totally dig the Volcano Choir stuff, but can’t wait to see what else comes out of Bon Iver.  Really phenomenal stuff, one of the most touching shows I've seen in a long time.  

Bon Iver - Blood Bank from L Dubbs on Vimeo.

Bon Iver - Lump Sum from L Dubbs on Vimeo.

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