Posts Tagged ‘Justin Vernon’

Bon Iver @ The Fox Theater

27 September 2009

Bon Iver | Fox Theater, Oakland | 9/24/09

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” That was Johnny Rotten’s classic rejoinder at the end of the last Sex Pistols show, at Winterland in San Francisco. And come to think of it, Mr. Rotten, I have had the feeling of being cheated many times – exorbitant ticket prices and convenience charges will do that. But seeing Bon Iver at the Fox Theater in Oakland on Thursday night was one of those rare great bargains – an hour of excellent music for just 22 bucks. Seeing a band touring behind a fine debut album is usually a guarantee of a good show, and this was no exception. Imagine seeing Neil Young during the Harvest tour, if that had been his debut, and you get some idea of the power of this concert experience.

Bon Iver’s debut, For Emma, Forever Ago was the work of Justin Vernon, who recorded the album in a cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin. To create the album’s haunting atmosphere, Vernon multi-tracked his voice and guitar to infinity, so the one issue I anticipated was how Bon Iver was going to capture that atmosphere without echo-boxes and/or backtracking. But the three piece band playing with Vernon beautifully sidestepped this issue through layers of haunting harmonies that in essence put four Justin Vernons on stage at the same time. Two members of the band were behind drum kits, and for ‘Skinny Love’ all three were banging away on drums to create the driving percussion of the recorded version of the song. During ‘re: stacks’ you could almost hear a pin drop (except for the drunken idiots jabbering away on the second level). The band crowded around a single microphone for a stunning unplugged cover of The Jayhawks’ ‘Tampa To Tulsa’, and Vernon whipped the crowd into sing-along mode for a spirited take of ‘For Emma’.

Bon Iver | Ticket

But the highlight of the evening was a non-album track called ‘Back In Wisconsin’, which came close to actually rocking out. Midway through its ten-minute running time, Vernon busted out a lengthy, psychedelic-tinged guitar solo that wouldn’t have been out of place in Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’ – an unexpected development that should give the casual observer much hope for the future of this band. But mostly this was an evening of haunting acoustic music – expertly rendered and rapturously received. On the backdrop behind the group was one of the best light shows I’ve seen in ages – a gently swirling field of smeared pastels that looked like a Monet painting come to life, and perfectly matched the pace of the music.

“Are you kidding me with this room?” Vernon asked the crowd midway through the show, gawking around at the luxurious venue his band was in the process of practically levitating off the ground. Later, he dropped that “This is going to be our last tour for awhile – we’re going to take some time and figure out what to do next.” If time is what Bon Iver needs to make more of this magic, I think I speak for everyone present on Thursday – take all the time you need fellas.

Over 21 | Wristband

Doubleshot Tuesday: Fleet Foxes/For Emma, Forever Ago

19 August 2008

[Today: Two of the finest debut albums in recent memory...]


I’d rather not distract myself with biographical details when it comes to Fleet Foxes. Music this majestic and otherworldly should remain ungrounded by such trivialities as the lead singer’s name (no idea), the band’s home town (who cares?), and their musical influences (impossible to say). Their recently released debut is an album of elemental beauty – each song an incantation that works its magic through repeated listens. “Wanderers this morning came by/Where do they go, graceful in the morning light?” It looks like Wordsworth on the page, and sounds positively angelic on the hi-fi. This is music for the white light of your death tunnel, and song titles like ‘Tiger Mountain Peasant Song’ ‘Ragged Wood’ and ‘White Winter Hymnal’ reflect the medieval poetry at the heart of Fleet Foxes.

The story of Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver) is oft-told and worth revisiting: guy loses girlfriend, sees his band split up, and cloisters himself away in a cabin in Wisconsin in the dead of winter. He kills his food, chops his firewood, and makes an album of stunning beauty with just his voice, a guitar, and a few effects pedals. Isolated, mournful, and ghostly, For Emma, Forever Ago is beyond classification and genre. Like Fleet Foxes, it lives at the horizon of music, where vast cacophonies of influences and sounds come together through a single artist, defying easy placement in any one bin at the record store. Pity the fool who has to categorize either of these albums, because it can’t be done.

Listen: Blue Ridge Mountains [Fleet Foxes]

Listen: Flume [Bon Iver]

Instant Classic: For Emma, Forever Ago

11 June 2008

Bon Iver - album

The backstory is almost too good to be true: Justin Vernon, reeling from breakups with his band and his girlfriend, splits North Carolina to live in a cabin in the woods of his native Wisconsin during the dead of winter. He hunts game, survives on venison, chops his own firewood, and records an album of lush, majestic beauty under the pseudonym Bon Iver. Just a guy with a guitar and a broken heart, getting it all out in a cabin in the middle of the woods.

But For Emma, Forever Ago isn’t the typical sad-sack, singer-songwriter fare. Here Vernon’s multi-tracked falsetto is layered into symphonies of aching despair. Heartbreak this stark shouldn’t be so arresting, and music this simple rarely sounds so complex. Each song seems to contain ghosts that hover just beyond the music, infusing the whole album with a spooky, magnetic edge. “I can’t take full credit for it, and I was the only one there,” says Vernon.

His physical and mental isolation are knit into the grooves of For Emma, and yet at times the sun breaks through those winter clouds to release the inner pop album hiding behind the gloom. But as quickly as those passages appear (like the catchy strum that drives ‘Lump Sum’), they retreat behind Vernon’s icicle falsetto. It’s a voice as impossible to ignore as if you were trapped in that cabin with him, cutting the head off your dinner while the ghosts of winter bang and howl at the door.

Listen: Lump Sum


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