Posted in Artist, Live Shows

Bon Iver @ Museum of Fine Arts Remis Auditorium – Boston, MA 7/25/08

I remember hearing of the mythical Bon Iver back in the summer of 2007, around the time all the bloggers were freaking out about this free album that landed in their inbox one day. I knew he was a man, gone astray in the Wisconsin woods where he opened up his heart and soul to music and came out a winter later with one magnificent album, For Emma, Forever Ago. But now that I’ve witnessed “Bon Iver” I know it’s more then just a man, it’s a feeling. A group effort. One that involves not just Justin Vernon, but also his band members and the audience.

This is not to say that Bon Iver could be without Justin and his remarkable innate talent to sing as if every lyric were his last and every note consisted of equal parts blood and tears. I honestly can’t say that I’ve been more moved by one mans voice then I was at this show. The only other human being close enough with a voice that compares would be Jonsi from Sigur Ros.

But it’s clear that the man who gave birth to “Good Winter” (French translation of Bon Iver which is actually spelled Bon Hiver) is set out to move away from a one man concept. Bon Iver, the group, appears to be getting ready to kick into song writing high gear. They were energized, pumped to be on their first ever headlining tour and playing at no less, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and to top it off, sold it out in two days. Mind you this was a man who no more then two years ago ran off in search for meaning in his life in the backwoods of Wisconsin in the middle of Winter. Want to know how cold it gets in Wisconsin in the winter? Just ask any member or the 2007 New York Giants or Green Bay Packers how cold it was during last seasons football playoffs (-23 degrees Fahrenheit with wind chill).

They’re on the tour bus, listening to music (we’ll talk about that in a couple minutes) and feeling each other out. They’re telling life stories and conversing about the nature of today’s society and world events. They’re writing music. And we got a little taste of what Bon Iver, the band, is sounding like in the future.

About half way through the show they decided to play a new tune. So new, that everyone had their own notes on hand. I didn’t have my notes-book so I don’t remember exactly the name but I believe it was called “Blood Bank” or maybe “Blood River”. Either way, it had a real funky, rock n’ roll groove. Justin jumped up on his keys and played in B3 organ style while all the members sang along. It was clear that instead of Justin’s voice, the music played the star of the song.

The band then took time to cover a group they’ve all been listening to recently in the tour bus, Talk Talk. Those who don’t know (I didn’t), Talk Talk was an early 80’s born band that ended in 1991. They play experimental and euphoric music that has a psychedelic side to it (Learn more). They played the song, “I Believe in You” and it seems to be about a “spirit” of some sorts. A very ethereal, slow jam that drags a bit but had a great vibe. Quite beautiful. And once again, Justin’s voice was neither here nor there in this segment of the show. In fact, the drummer took the lead vocal reigns for the cover.

Listen to Talk Talk and “I Believe in You” on this myspace page:

What about Forever Emma, Forever Ago tunes? Well, they played just about all of them, and yeah, including that one (“Skinny Love”). For me, it was “Blindsided” that took the cake from the album songs. Like with any album, jamming is usually cut short in order to keep the flow going from one song to the next. However, most bands will extend on certain sections that call for a little extra improvisation. “Blindsided” was one of the best examples of this all night. On the album it’s around the 3 minute mark where the vocals fluctuate from “would you really rush out” to “for it now” or something like that, and then they break back to the verse after 40 seconds but instead, during the show, they kept going with this vamp and Justin went off on his guitar and man, not only can he sing but the kid can play the geetar too.

We also had ourselves a little collaboration moment with the band. It’s one of Justin’s goals to have the audience participate as much as possible during the show. He even handed out lyrics to songs during some of his first ever live shows to the crowd so that they could sing along word for word (read more about this during his Pitchfork interview). We sang “what might have been lost” during “The Wolves (Act I and II)” and attempted to sing as loud as the PA during the climax of the song, which was not easy and I’m not quite sure we accomplished this or not but we gave it our best shot.

So we heard every tune off the album, plus a brand new one and a cover, so by the end, as every one stood up to applaud Bon Iver, the band, we all wondered what they could surprise us with next. For the encore, both the Bon Iver crew and the entire Bowerbirdcrew (opening act and close friends of Justin) came walking out to the front of the stage. Everyone was instrumentless except for Justin who was holding an acoustic guitar. They explained how they had played everything they knew so for times when the crowd is a good crowd (which we were) they play a song written by their good friend Sarah Siskin who is based out of Nashville. Since they also covered this same song, which is called “Lovin’s For Fools”, in New York City you can bet every single blogger and their assistants (yeah, I wouldn’t be surprised if some bloggers in NYC actually do have assistants) were on top of reporting this little gem of a tune. Watch the Bowery version of this song in the above video. Listen to more Sarah Siskind music on her myspace. One review said that you can see how well Justin and Phil Moore, lead vocalist for Bowerbirds, know each other by the way they hit their pitches during this song. While I agree, I still can’t get over Phil Moore’s resemblance to one Andrew Bird. While I love the birdman, there is something about Phil’s take on this vocal style that turns me off. Sorry for any Bowerbird fans, this is not a negative review of Bowerbirds its just a personal issue and overall I think their music is quite exceptional.

Bon Iver are on the road now until October 7th where they end in Dublin, Ireland. See the whole tour schedule. Bon Iver’s evolution over the course of this year, in my opinion, is going to depend largely on the commitment of the players around the core of Bon Iver, Justin Vernon. If the commitment stays high, which I assume it will, we may just see a really great follow up album that given the uplift in Justin’s soul, will be more energetic, lively and collaborative. Just a prediction but hey, I wouldn’t complain if he found enough room for another For Emma, Forever Ago.

  • Purchase For Emma, Forever Ago
  • Download “Skinny Love” from the album (right click and “save as”}
  • Visit Bon Iver on Myspace

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