September 22, 2011
Bon Iver: WI Nite at the Greek
There are few things better than a buddy emailing you at the last minute with an extra ticket to a sold-out concert at the Greek. You'd be a fool to go against the forces of nature and music. And I am no fool- unless I come up against someone cleverer or better educated or if I am tired, then I might have a daft moment. But I was not foolish enough to say No to an extra ticket to a sold-out concert by Bon Iver at the
Greek. So, the day after one of the godfathers of indie music, REM, announced their retirement, I moseyed up the hill to see what the future of indie music might look like. (Check out the MV&R review of REM's visit to the Greek in 2008.)
Wisconsin has its musical history and traditions: including Liberace, Al Jarreau, Robin Zander of Cheap Trick, Les Paul (inventor of the famed Les Paul electric guitar), the Violent Femmes, the author of this blog. Not necessarily listed in order of importance. And now a new entrant to build on the grand tradition of music, cheese and Packers: Bon Iver. Though BI only has two
albums, both have been released to great critical and popular acclaim. The band has performed at mega-festivals like Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza and Glastonbury which is a pretty amazing feat for a band that plays largely quiet indie-folkie acoustic-based music that is frequently interspersed with psychedelic, jazzy bridges before the song structure returns. To give you an idea of both the artistic and poetic aspirations of BI, the first CD release party was held at House on the Rock in WI- an apt place for the band's music. Or you can also check out their hit, "Skinny Love."
Justin Vernon is the lead singer and songwriter for the band and sings about 70% of the songs in a falsetto which can be tiresome when listening to the recordings but is less so live. Still, I was unconvinced of the necessity of this when he's got a perfectly good singing voice that reminded
me vividly of Peter Gabriel (who also had a penchant for singing in falsetto when he wanted to get all vulnerable and expressive) - kind of Peter Gabriel in a flannel shirt around a WI campfire. I would prefer that Vernon sing in his normal voice. The songs are well-written, intelligent and melodic and the falsetto largely just comes off as an affectation.
Nevertheless, Bon Iver put on a lively, strong performance. There were 9 musicians on stage playing a large assortment of instruments and not a weak link among them. The band also brought along an excellent fog and light show. Running a fog machine for the duration of the concert was a tad redundant in the Bay Area but I can't count that as a complaint or criticism. If Bon Iver continues producing and performing music at this level, I think the indie music world will survive just fine in the post-REM world.