Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Bon Iver Live at the Wilbur Theatre, Boston, MA, December 15th, 2008

Last night, Bon Iver’s wintery falsettos ricocheted off the chandeliers and vaulted ceiling of the Wilbur Theatre. The bluesy southern acoustic act The Tallest Man on Earth opened the show.

When songwriter and vocalist Justin Vernon stepped out of the darkness, guitars, drums and electronic equipment littered the stage. Each musician performed multiple duties throughout the set; Vernon was boxed in by a rack of guitars, a synth, microphone and amp. Mike Noyce played guitar and beat a floor tom, Sean Carey was poised behind a drum set and played acoustic and Matt McCon picked up the bass line as well as drums. They all joined their voices together for the four part harmony that appeared in most songs. The group is exactly what you would picture them to look like from the music’s sound: weathered, winter cap wearing lumberjacks with gnarled hair and beards.

The intro noise and wailing falsettos to the first song “Lump Sum” was longer, building anticipation before the lights came up and those three repeated down stroke chords started.

Vernon pulled out the steel guitar for the unmistakable twang of the romantic crowd favorite, “Skinny Love.” It showed off the band’s ability to be unconventional as they experimented with random notes and played the guitar in ways it wasn’t meant to be played, such as above the fret board or below the bridge.

The band then transitioned into two songs from the newly released “Blood Bank.” The EP is only available now on 45 rpm vinyl, a speed Vernon connoted by saying, “that just means its cooler.” The songs come from the same sessions as the album For Emma, Forever Ago so he could appropriately say, “These are old songs, but I guess they’re new to you.” Vernon played the repetitious heartbreaking keys for “Babys” and Carey stepped from behind the drum kit to play nylon acoustic for the whimpering and trudging along “Beach Baby.”

“Creature Fear” showed the band at more improvisation. As one of the heavier songs, they took the chance to rock out towards the end. For “The Wolves (Act I and II)” Vernon said the song would only sound right with the audience’s participation. They followed the crescendo of the line “what might have been lost.” Then at the end of the song, Vernon requested them to scream as loud as possible, because as he said, “It’s not often that you get to scream bloody murder before Christmas, so you should just go for it.” It didn’t sound like screams however, but yowling moans and bawling yelps that echoed off the theatre like a frosty cavern.

For the encore, the band played the marching snowy tryst story “Blood Bank,” also from the new EP. As the song bloomed into improvisation, Vernon borrowed a trick from the grunge and art/noise scenes by kneeling in front of his amp and playing with the feedback from his electric guitar and effects pedals.Vernon said that this would be the last time the band would be in Boston for a while. Hopefully that means they’ll be recording again soon. Bon Iver makes their way back to Wisconsin this month before heading to Australia in January.


~Lee Stepien

Posted at WERS.org on December 15, 2008
Photography by A. Grant

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