[Originally posted 8/4/11]
Aside from AthFest (and barely getting into the mind-blowing Reptar show at the 40 Watt), this summer’s concert season has been pretty slow for me up until now. It’s these few weeks in late summer 2011 that might hold some of the best shows of my life. First there was Bon Iver in Atlanta, which I’ll elaborate on in a minute. Then in a week, I’ll be in Toronto for Jeff Mangum–for not just one, but two nights. I really can’t say enough about how privileged I feel to be experiencing that. And I’ve been needing a good getaway to somewhere new this summer. I’ve just felt a bit stuck and stagnant. Anyway, I’ll have a more full report when I get back home.
For Emma, Forever Ago is one of those records that hit me hard upon first listen, but it definitely took its time to envelop a particular moment for me. While it’s definitely the perfect soundtrack to a snow day, I can’t disconnect it from last summer, when I grew to mutually fall in love with it and with someone special. I love unusual juxtapositions in music, and that record has its own that I’ve imposed on it–it sounds like some imaginary season to me; a warm, carefree, snowy summer of love. This summer, Justin Vernon and crew released Bon Iver, Bon Iver, with a much grander and orchestrated approach. It’s garnered a lot of praise and a little bit of flack; personally, I don’t think it’s better than the first album, but I came to appreciate the songs and the band a lot more when I saw them at the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre last month.
After seeing them live, I’ll never again refer to Bon Iver as “he.” The first album may have been Justin’s thing, but Bon Iver is a full-fledged band now, and better for it. The band really shines on the new tunes as well as the old ones. The show opener “Perth” was excellent proof of this, as the same sound that’s present in that track on the album–sonically large and full of distance–was replicated live. The two Blood Bank EP songs they played–the title track and “Beach Baby”–might have emerged as my favorite moments of the show, as they were even better live. And of course, the older songs were wonderful to hear live for the first time. Particularly during those songs, I was surprised at what a well-behaved crowd was present that night. Clearly they understood the importance of silence in those songs, because you could hear a beer pop open from across the auditorium.
As they closed with “Skinny Love,” it was clear that we had all just experienced something that truly deserves to be called awesome, and clear that Bon Iver has grown out of that romantic vision of a lone man writing songs in a cabin. It was never supposed to last forever.
Thankfully, YouTube user MetabolicalFor recorded the entire show that night, and it’s probably the best audience recording I’ve ever seen or heard. After watching it, I’m honestly having trouble believing I was there. Here’s “Blood Bank,” one of my favorites from that night: