Bon Iver at the Sound Academy; Monday August 8, 2011

Bon Iver is no longer my little secret.

It’s pretty incredible just how many people they can jam into the Sound Academy, almost unbearable once you reach the front.

They began the show with the first four songs off of Bon Iver. You could tell they were really excited to share these tunes with everyone, some songs they haven’t been playing three years endlessly. Frontman, Justin Vernon seems like the type to keep reinventing himself, he’s done a fab job of dividing his time between main project Bon Iver and other acts such as Gayngs and the Volcano Choir.


He really didn’t talk too much between songs. He seems much more chatty at the show above.

Same light show for our show, red as in blood, for “Blood Bank.” This is also another song I much prefer recorded than live:


I can’t help but reminisce about other shows that I’ve seen of Justin Vernon. The first two were tight, small ensemble shows at Lee’s Palace. Both times we were able to squeeze to the front to get a full view. The third time was at 12:00am at Coachella with his soulful band Gayngs. Gayngs brought out a mediocre sized crowd, but nothing unbearable. I remember feeling absolutely refreshed because I had just had a shower and I felt clean and new. Watching these guys was just absolutely inspiring, everyone in the crowd was hooked on them, completely intoxicated. Justin sort of took a back seat ride in this band, more of a collective or a shared environment rather than a band.

So in terms of yesterday’s show, I’m foster a lot of intimate memories of this act. In conversation, all I can acknowledge is just how lucky I am to have had these opportunities.

It was nice to hear Bon Iver tunes with a large group, with eight or nine bodies on stage at any time. A huge change from their original three-piece band set up. Tunes never strayed too far from their original sound, just maybe slightly better. The only exception I’d make from this statement is the tune “Creature Fear,” which is my favourite off of For Emma Forever Ago. It for some reason doesn’t build up as big as it did with just three people, it just sounded big from the beginning. “Creature Fear” is a tune that I killed, I listened to it so many times it just means nothing to me anymore. Unfortunate considering just how much it meant to me to start.

“Beach Baby” from the Blood Bank EP had a completely different feel to it. An almost overwhelming, but well translated hook on the violin. I have to say this song was a grower, I fell in love and played it on repeat when I was nervously cramming for an exam on the most important course of my undergrad education. It was sort of remedy for the jitters, completely calming. I just don’t feel this revitalised version has that effect on me:


The encore consisted of three songs – “Skinny Love,” “Beth/Rest” and “The Wolves (Act I and Act II). I was pretty pleased to hear the last song because I was expecting some huge audience participation of the line “What might have been lost” as I had heard in other clips of live shows. It seems because of the large band set up he doesn’t have to rely on the crowd to chime in. Maybe they did and I didn’t notice. Suffice to say, it wasn’t as epic as I thought it would be.


Hearing “Skinny Love” was a pleasure, the boys in the band with the exception of Sean Carey on drums, huddled around two microphones and helped with back up vocals. It was nice to hear the song with Justin and his steel guitar alone, a bare sound the song really requires. The back up boys also clapped in dialogue between each other… It was kind of lost in the loud sound of Justin and the crowd, but with a peek you could easily see what they were doing.


I was somewhat expecting a cover song because of his cover of Sarah Siskind’s “Loving’s For Fools” last tour though. Some research revealed he had been covering Bjork’s “Who Is It?,” we didn’t get this one though:


Bon Iver has become something huge – I hate hearing the Eau Claire hunting cabin story, sure it’s a huge part of how Bon Iver became what it is today, but it just doesn’t play an intrinsic part in the band’s existence. I think people love Bon Iver because the music is just lovely and good on the ears. I’ve spent countless hours listening to their music and I still don’t know the lyrics, there’s a kind of closeness that is even attained from far away.

I like this excerpt from a New York Times article on Bon Iver:

He’s also learning to keep some things for himself. “It was important for me to discard the storytelling aspect of it,” he said. “It’s such a weird thing: People sing sad songs and then they have to sing them all the time.” His solution was to create songs “so unspecific that I’m not actually going to use words that have specific meanings.” But that vagueness has the effect of inviting people in.       

“You can place yourself inside his songs and his music, because he leaves space for you,” said the alt-country singer Kathleen Edwards, who is Vernon’s girlfriend. “I mean this respectfully, but most of the time I have no idea what Justin’s songs are about.”    

My only real complaint of the show was just how crowded it was. I was surrounded by an eclectic mash of bearded twentysomethings and young girls, everyone wanted to live Bon Iver’s music live. Really, no longer my little secret.


One thought on “Bon Iver at the Sound Academy; Monday August 8, 2011

  1. I feel the same way; I started listening to Bon Iver right after For Emma, Forever Ago. Not like he was incredibly obscure or anything, but now all of my friends are listening to him. You’re so lucky being able to get to his concert!

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