Bon Iver, Bowerbirds
Music Hall of Williamsburg, 7/30/08
Self-released in late 2007, and later receiving a wide release on Jagjaguwar in February, Bon Iver’s "For Emma, Forever Ago" has been collecting universal praise everywhere it goes. And how could it not? Justin Vernon’s soul-baring debut is a rare breed that contains both a unparalleled emotional depth and rich sonic atmosphere.
By now, fans know the back story: Vernon secluded himself to a cabin in Wisconsin, where he metaphorically carved himself open, pouring all of his personal struggles, heartache and loss into the song writing process for what would become "For Emma, Forever Ago." And with every minute of the record, listeners share an emotionally binding experience with Vernon. As sad as it can be, the supremely rich vocals give the songs an uplifting glow.
I came into contact with this record during my own period of heartache and loss, and became immediately attached. As someone who relies on music as therapy, I cannot recommend a better record to accompany you through the darkest of days. It’s honest, sincere, and sheds an amazing light over the deepest of pains. It’s hard not to want to thank whoever caused Vernon all this pain. For all the troubles it brought him, it produced a beautiful record, guaranteed to act as a positive force in so many lives.
While the band has gained a strong following in the past year, thankfully they haven’t been pushed into playing massive venues like Hammerstein Ballroom and Terminal 5. Songs with such a feeling of intimacy require a space that’s equally intimate.
On Wednesday night, Bon Iver played to a sold out crowd at Music Hall of Williamsburg, after appearing at the Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday. From the moment the quartet took the stage, it was magical. The crowd, the sound, the music, and everything that goes into a concert, clicked into place perfectly. Only a night earlier I had seen Gibby Haynes get thrown out of Webster Hall after quarreling with the sound guy. There would be none of that last night. A complaint couldn’t possibly be made, even by the pickiest of ears.
Never before have I heard such majestic harmonies than when the band led into "Lump Sum" early in their set. The entire performance was awe-inspiring. For a band who really hasn’t been together for all that long, there was an abnormal level of maturity to the performance. Each song displayed a powerful buildup, but none more amazing than on "Creature Fear," which grew into a beautiful force that engulfed the audience.
Before beginning "The Wolves," Vernon asked the audience for their participation, directing them to sing along to the words "What might have been lost" with a slow build up. Gaining crowd participation is no always an easy task, but what followed was the type of experience in which the line separating crowd and band disappears to create a single otherworldly force. It was the kind of moment so lovely that it sends shivers down your spine.
Ending the set with "For Emma," the crowd continued to sing along, adding another layer of warm vibes to the room.
When Vernon and the rest of the band returned for their encore, he was truly humble for the positive reception, practically apologizing for only having one song left to play. Justin, you have nothing to apologize for. There couldn’t have been a better choice to close the show with than "Skinny Love."
There would be no chants of "bullshit!" Fans got everything they could dream of on Wednesday night. Simply put: It was one of the best shows of the year.
Vernon announced that they’ll be back in December to play Town Hall. I strongly urge everyone to get tickets when they go on sale.
On tour with Bon Iver for a while now, Bowerbirds played the role of opener. And if not for Bon Iver’s amazing set, I’d be gushing endlessly about them. Their Appalachian folk has made them one of the best new bands out there, and their album "Hymns for a Dark Horse" is worth a listen from anyone who enjoys Americana.
Photo by Jonny-Leather