Stoked… (Bon Iver at United Palace Theater Concert Review)

9 Aug

Life changed…

Ok, so that’s what I originally wrote on the ride home from seeing Bon Iver. I let it marinate for a few days, partially because I was away from a functioning internet connection, and partly because my feathers were a little bit ruffled. It’s daunting, trying to describe something that means so much to you in a way that others will be able to understand. I don’t think I’ll do it justice, but I’ll do my darndest to try…

The Rosebuds

While I hadn’t listened to much of their music before the concert, I had heard the buzz around these three, the comments about what great openers they’ve been thus far for Bon Iver. They have a folkier vibe about them, but complemented Bon Iver absolutely perfectly. When looking for an opener, I don’t think a band wants someone with their exact sound, though they probably look for common threads (because, as I’ve come to know, it’s actually very jarring when an opener is completely different from the main act- no matter how good they are at what they do, it’s jarring to be in the mood for one sound and have another thrown at you). Well, Bon Iver, mission accomplished. The Rosebuds had the comfort of Bon Iver, but with their own spin (which included female vocals, for starters).

On the left of the stage was the guitarist/vocalist, in the middle stood the gal on keyboard/vocals, and to the right was the bassist/fiddler. Lovely fiddle.

The Rosebuds Setlist

1. I got into my seat just as it was ending, so I missed this one.
2. Limitless Arms
3. Boxcar
4. Cemetery Lawns
(the band dedicated this song to Justin Vernon who helped record this song
and played guitar on the recording)
5. Leaves Do Fall
(folkier, behind his long hair I could see the bassist grinning during the girl’s solo about half way through the song)
6. Life Like
7. Second Bird of Paradise
8. Come Visit Me
(the trio was joined by guitarist Mike Lewis, the fiddle sounded almost like the Psycho theme at times though strangely comforting)
9. Woods

Bon Iver

Let’s start off with the fact that there was a 9 piece band. 9. piece. band. 9. p.i.e.c.e. b.a.n.d. Guitar, bass, drums, fiddle, sax, clarinet, trumpet, these guys had it all but the kitchen sink- and I’m pretty sure they would have included that as well if they’d found one in tune. Founder, songwriter, and lead vocalist Justin Vernon is just that kind of guy: out there, but in a way that makes one simultaneously sigh and smile.

To set the scene, let’s jump to “Towers”. On this song, the break-down of musical duties was: 1 bass, 1 fiddle, 2 drums, 2 bari sax, JV on guitar, and 2 trumpets. One more set of strings and another stage would have been needed to hold all the talent.

The song I was most excited to hear live was “Hinnom, TX”. On the album version of this track, Justin Vernon’s falsetto vocals and layered over his super low voice and I was so curious to see how it would be executed in a live setting- I mean JV is pretty talented, but I don’t think simultaneously singing two parts which differ by about two octaves is on his resume yet. The drummer on the right of the stage was one of the main backing vocalists, and he took the reigns on the high singing part while JV crooned down low. I swear, if velvet had a singing voice and had one song to sing, “Hinnom, TX” would make the shortlist.

I once read that Bon Iver used to have difficulty translating their songs to live settings that they gave out sheets of music to audience members so they could sing along and help out. With bigger venues and a tighter band those days are gone… almost. Before starting in on “Wolves (Act 1 and 2)”, JV addressed the audience by saying, “we need all of you to sing, a sort of encompassing thing, where if all of you don’t do it, it doesn’t work”. He asked us to hang tight until about halfway through the song, before which the band would “twiddle our thumbs, looking important, then you’ll scream ‘what might have been lost’”- starting low and raising the volume with each repeat. When Justin Vernon calls upon me for help I answer, and boy did we the audience answer. The energy. Oh, the energy. The lighting had been spectacular throughout, but during this song the lights were literally pulsing with the drum beatings, illuminating the black stage with bright white. I felt like the driving bass was literally beating my heart for me, it was so intense.

For the finale, Bon Iver took a calmer route with “Skinny Love” which featured JV sitting on a chair with his guitar, while the band (minus the drummers) gathered around two microphones to sing backing vocals and clap. I though that it was a nice spin on what seems to be popular in recent years, where just the lead vocalist will sing one of the closing songs. I liked the intimate feel that this set up lent itself to, but the fact that there still were some drums-a-drumming. It was a nice last image to close the night with.

I think I heard that this was the biggest venue Bon Iver’s headlined to date, and they held their own without a doubt. I’d seen JV on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and The Colbert Report in recent months so I knew his unique vocals still held up without electronics, but it was really something else experience them in person. So worth the traffic on the way home.

This was during “Blood Bank”- what prefect lighting

Bon Iver Setlist

1. Perth
2. Minnesota, WI
3. Holocene
4. Towers
“This is one for the dormitory peeps.”
(especially lovely bass on this one)
5. Beach Baby
“This song is about making out on a beach, or wishing you were making out on a beach with someone you used to or never did.”
6. Hinnom, TX
7. Wash.
(lively yet soft drums here, so nice)
8. Blood Bank
(there were blood red lights illuminating the stage,
they killed it (pun intended) with the energy and drums)
9. Who Is It (Bjork Cover)
(the guy with the ‘fro did some impressive beat boxing)
10. Michicant
JV: “How is everybody tonight?”
Heckler: “Good, how about you?”
JV: (laughs) “I don’t know, I’m trying to blink. Fuck. It’s so pretty; the building, all the people.”
11. Re: Stacks
(just JV on guitar and a clear and bright voice which was, literally, perfect)
12. Flume
(so much French horn love)
13. Calgary
14. For Emma

JV: (referring to leaving the stage and coming back for an encore) “That whole scene is getting pretty weird, you know, but it’s party time.”
15. Beth/Rest
(lovely sax)
16. Wolves (Act 1 and 2)
17. Skinny Love

(I officially get the “Set List Queen” award with this, I think. No one dares to challenge my sharp elbows or my puppy eyes!)

The Venue

I’d been to the United Palace Theater once before for Fleet Foxes earlier this summer, but I was just as in awe at the venue’s beautiful murals, stained glass, and architecture. For the most part I like intimate, standing venues so I get right in front of the music makers, but exceptions can be made. United Palace is the perfect place to sit back and relax, sink into the plush seats, and let elegant sounds wash over you. For an act like Bon Iver, I’m not in the pushing-and-shoving-to-get-to-the-front-where-I’ll-probably-have-someone-elbowing-me-the-entire-time-while-twenty-other-people-have-an-Olympic-class-shoving-match-around-me mindset; I welcomed the seats so I could could focus all my attention on the masterful instrumentation and not on jumping up and down so I can see over a giant’s head. My one non-raving comment about the venue, though: turn down the damn bass! It was crazy loud during Fleet Foxes and again with The Rosebuds especially, it seemed like someone like to dose out too much of a great thing. In this case, more isn’t less and less isn’t more- just enough should be just enough.

Listen to Blood Bank by Bon Iver

Listen to Re: Stacks by Bon Iver

Listen to Calgary by Bon Iver

Listen to Hinnom, TX by Bon Iver

Listen to Beth/Rest by Bon Iver

Listen to Woods by The Rosebuds

2 Responses to “Stoked… (Bon Iver at United Palace Theater Concert Review)”

  1. Francis August 10, 2011 at 6:35 AM #

    That good huh?

    • blogonlyknows August 12, 2011 at 6:37 PM #

      Most definitely, I wasn’t really away on vacation- it just took me this long to process it all. ;)

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