On 9/13/2011, Lomo and I had the privilege of seeing Bon Iver at the Long Center in Austin, Texas. This was her second time seeing them. This was my first. And anyone who has followed this blog knows that we are huge fans.
The Long Center is a beautiful venue inside and out but I thought it was an odd choice. I know I felt an uncertainty with what was the proper etiquette. The unending line to the alcohol as well as the constant flow of traffic to and from the auditorium gave a sense that this was your everyday rock show (or folk show). But the massive venue and seating as well as the elderly, well-dressed ushers gave a sense that this was a show to experience passively. I know that I felt subdued. (MUCH more after the jump)
We were a bit late to catch all of Kathleen Edwards' opening act. What struck me almost immediately was how odd it was that a three piece band made up of guitar players opened for Bon Iver since almost everyone in Bon Iver has a moment of playing percussion. Kathleen has a very Dixie Chickian way about her and a very gorgeous voice. The songs, unfortunately, weren't all that memorable to us (to be fair, she said that her best song was the first one, and we missed it), but she won over the crowd by being so very charming. Kathleen is Justin Vernon's girlfriend, and I found myself oddly judging her. I wondered what kinda gal Justin Vernon would go for (as his "Emma" inspired a masterpiece), and I was pleasantly surprised to find that she seemed like an all-around cool chick.
Now, what can we say about Bon Iver? The nine-member group came out to a raucous ovation and rocked. They rocked as much you could rock in a fairly subdued venue like that. They rocked as much as a soft-rock, folk band can rock. They rocked our peaceful, calm faces off.
The songs covered a good mix of all the albums (including an intense version of "Blood Bank" from the Blood Bank EP) but concentrated on the recent self-titled release. The performances were absolutely flawless. For the most part, the songs sounded almost exactly like they did on the records which makes you appreciate how calculated each sound for each song is...How each instrument (and lordy, there were so many) had a specific place...How "full" each song sounded. Throughout the show, the words "wall of sound" kept coming to my head.
Vernon closed the first part of the show (you know, before rock stars do that thing where they leave and then come back after a minute or two) with "Beth/Rest" or, as Lomo called it, 80s prom music. It was always my least favorite track on that record because it does indeed sound like 80s prom music. But it sounded absolutely terrific and worthy of closing the set with a live band and full instrumentation. After that, he played the classic "For Emma." To me, it felt a bit fast and didn't have the wounded soul of what I was used to. For the encore, he brought the house down with an amazing version of "Skinny Love." He played the guitar and was backed by six vocalists and the two drummers. He ended the night with "The Wolves (Act I and Act II)," but it seemed a bit anticlimactic at that point. It's a song that typically involves audience participation, but I saw very few people that went along.
All in all... it was a truly masterful performance. I can't speak for Lomo here, but I walked way from it feeling, for lack of a better word, complete. Like I had just participated in or been witness to something incredibly special and found some kind of peace that even I didn't know I needed.
"Everything that happens is from now on."
Who Is it (Bjork cover)
The Wolves (Act I and Act II)
Take a closer look at the pics on Flickr.