5. Bon Iver at the Murat Theatre, Indianapolis
As many musicians morph from freshman to sophomore album releases, Justin Vernon, the lead of Bon Iver, has taken a bit of a musical journey over the stretch of his first two albums and EP in between. His first album is a folky exposee of life and relationships while his second full-length is an electronic-folk rock exploration piece. His EP is a mixture of the two, a perfect bridge built to help us understand how he got from point A to point B.
I was introduced to Bon Iver's music when I was in college and it had been announced that our Integration of Faith and Culture club was sponsoring a concert in which he was performing. I listened to a song or two on myspace before the night of the concert to get myself acquainted with what I heard was brilliant music. I really fell in love with Vernon's simplistic yet profound musicality at the concert, and I bought his album For Emma Forever Ago there. I listened to that album probably for months on end-- in my car, in my dorm room, etc. Vernon's lyricism, although at times nonsensical, was poetic and enchanting along with his bluesy falsetto.
When Bon Iver's EP Blood Bank was announced, I was very excited and ready for some fresh music from Vernon's genuis. But when I listened, some songs struck the right chords for me, and others, specifically songs with more electronic elements, did not. Generally, I am a sucker for a more organic sound, so I had a hard time engaging fully with the EP.
I stumbled across an announcement of Bon Iver's second album leaking over the internet, and a friend of mine provided without my prompting. I may not have chosen to invest in Bon Iver, Bon Iver, but since I received it as a gift of sorts, I loaded it into my library and gave it a few spins. I felt similarly about Vernon's sophomore album as I did about the EP.
The album collected virtual dust as it sat in my iTunes library for a month or so. I received notification of Bon Iver's scheduled performance in Indy, and marked it on my calendar as a possibility. Having seen Bon Iver at Taylor for ten bucks and being blown away, I knew that I had no need to top that experience, but what's one more concert tacked on the list for my Summer Music Marathon? One of my friends contacted me with a special proposition-- the possibility of a free ticket to the show. If that worked out, I was in for sure, but if not, I wouldn't morn the loss of a mediocre electronic folk rock show. Meanwhile, I brushed up on the new album just in case.
You may have gleaned the outcome of this proposition-- the tickets worked out and I headed downtown for the show! The opening act was The Rosebuds, whose music was good but did not stir anything deep in me. I honestly was just pretty anxious to see if my expectations of Bon Iver would be true or proven false. I expected it to be similar to the three-part band set that I saw in college, but with Justin Vernon playing synth instead of his rusty resonator. After the opener, there was a bit of an intermission so the stage could be stripped and set for the main act. I didn't take much notice of the instruments and the set up until Bon Iver took the stage and everyone stood up from their seats (to absorb the sound waves I imagine).
Vernon stood in the center of the stage-- to his left were two men playing trumpet/synth and trombone/auxiliary percussion. To his right were two guitarist/violin/vocalists. Directly behind him were two saxophone players, one of which played the bass as well. On either side of those men was a drummer, one who was also a vocalist (aka S. Carey). Vernon had brought his eight-piece band along-- far from the "guy and his two friends" context I had seen him in at Taylor for ten bucks. Their opening two songs blew me away, so much so that I can't even remember what they were. I had to process a ton during the show since I was not the most familiar with their latest stuff and since the arrangement of even familiar songs was unfamiliar (and just plain beautiful). I love music that has layers and interesting elements-- it engages my musical mind, makes me think and process. Sgt. Justin's Bon Iver Band did just that for me. There was enough going on to keep me captivated without being overwhelmed. The band rocked, and they rocked hard and loud, but they did so with intricate sensitivity, a good amount of precision, and lots of heart and soul.
Since the show, I have actually enjoyed listening to the new album and the EP. It is amazing to me how much of an effect a live performance can have on one's perception of an album. An album is such a static thing-- it is recorded one way and heard that way forever. Being able to see/hear a live performance of music that is largely known through a certain recording can be enlightening, offering a new perspective. I found this to be true for me. My experience with seeing Bon Iver perform live transformed my view of their recorded pieces. I am glad that I have a deeper appreciation of Bon Iver's latest works because I really did want to be able to give them that chance.
Highlights of the show include the surprisingly high average age of the audience (majority ranging from 27-33 I would say), the auxiliary percussion/trombone-player breaking out in some sick beats with his mouth (that man can apparently do anything), and the man down the row doing jazz hands at random moments during the show. Funny story here. And by funny, I mean I was a total jerk. I saw this guy and was very confused, even amused, by his outward expression of joy at unique moments. I poked fun to my friend who laughed along with me. A few minutes later, my friend looks at me with the horror of embarassment... "He's deaf!" "What?!" "He's deaf! I have like 4 cousins who are deaf and that is the sign for applause!" "......Oh my gosh.......I am a horrible person! Also, that makes no sense!" After feeling really terrible myself, I also mustered up some anger toward the people in front of us who also had noticed our jazzy friend and proceeded to poke fun as well. That is until I saw our jazzy deaf friend talking to his concert buddy...wait, deaf people don't generally talk, right? And if they do, they are usually signing while they speak... Alright, I didn't feel so bad anymore. The guy really was just doing some jazz hands out of pure excitement. He was expressing what we were all feeling, though, to be completely honest.
Overall concert experience= 4 out of 5...top notch for sure.