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Bon Iver: Quiet Music in a Big Room

16 Aug

Bon Iver with AA Bondy, First Avenue Mainroom 8/15/2008

It’s an ingenious device, the voice. We can use it to call out, to draw in, to make beautiful, uncomfortable motions. Justin Vernon, the now much lauded Bon Iver, does all these things, often simultaneously. Watching the crowd at First Ave there was a palpable desire to sing along; eyes were closed, words were mouthed- but Justin’s voice and the delicacy of the songs demand a rapt silence that conveys audiences back to the bedrooms where they first heard the tracks, or to the first shows packed into smaller venues. It’s a tightrope act of desire and reverence, and it’s enthralling. When Bon Iver closed their set with an acoustic, near a cappella cover of Sarah Siskind‘s “Lovin’s For Fools,” cheers would rise up and then be be silenced by a chorus of “shhh” from other crowd members.

Not that Bon Iver has been particularly precious with the songs while they’ve been on tour- on the road almost constantly through 2008. With the live band rounded out by Mike Noyce on guitars and percussion and Sean Carey manning the skins, they’ve been having fun, adding new harmonizations, layering in some breakdowns, and giving each other room to play so that their catalog remains small, but not unvaried. Most impressive with the full lineup (including Mark Paulson of The Bowerbirds and Ben Lester) was the giant build-up to the end of “Creature Fear,” a full band crasher that had Vernon hopping around his set-up, shaking at the others, and then cutting out to a hanging catharsis.

More after the jump…

Outside afterward, two conversations with strangers (just friends you haven’t met yet, right?) brought out the two poles of the show. One man tried to articulate how strange it was to share the music he had made personal with other people. He was trying to make sense of the size of the venue (as were the band, all smiles at selling out the Mainroom). Another young woman was more succinct, “Just shut up and let the beautiful man play beautiful music.”

Opener AA Bondy got similar respectful treatment, despite starting 45 minutes late to an anxious crowd. His dead-on early, topical-songwriting Dylan delivery was sharp, and his leavened, non sequitur wit a la Mitch Hedberg (Why is it the greatest Minnesotans are mumblers?) kept the crowd cheering and engaged. One of his songs opened with the first verse of “John the Revelator,” a Blind Willie Johnson classic that courses with history. In a later chorus, Bondy cried out “Hey Man,” that became a homonym for “Amen,” a testament to the call, and praise, of the human voice.

Bon Iver Setlist
Lump Sum
Creature Fear
Blood Bank (new)
Skinny Love
I Believe in You (Talk Talk cover)
The Wolves (Act I and II)

For Emma
Lovin’s For Fools (Sarah Siskind cover)

Download mp3:
Skinny Love

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