With The Staves
Fillmore Miami Beach
Wednesday, June 6, 2012
Better Than: Bon Iver and I went to do the washing after a dinner of roasted tubers we'd collected on a walk through the woods together. A wolf cried out from the mountains across the black glass of the lake and was carried to us on the wind. Bon Iver held me close, the hair of his arm both prickly and soft against my bare shoulder. "If he's hungry for anything," Bon Iver said, "it's for friendship."
The Review: Toward the end of last night's show at the Fillmore Miami Beach, the rest of Bon Iver left the stage while mastermind Justin Vernon loomed, bearded and alone with his electric guitar. Dusty streaks of light came from above as though through a church's clerestory windows. The moment weighed heavy with reverent religiosity as the faithful waited in silence.
"Ah, reflection," Vernon said with a sleepy smile. "It's good to pause and reflect."
The quiet broken, ecstatic shouts came from the darkness.
"It's my birthday!"
"Cool," Vernon said.
Shouts of "Stacks! Stacks!" and "I love you!" and "Fuck Justin Timberlake!"
"I don't know what that was," Vernon laughed. "I don't have enough brains to process all your voices at once."
When Justin Timberlake played Vernon on Saturday Night Live as a soporific, barefoot loon it solidified a growing image of Bon Iver among the unfamiliar: a band of quiet backwoods eccentrics.
Last night at the Fillmore, however, Bon Iver hit harder than most bands to visit Miami, outside of some hardcore thicknecks scrounging for drink tickets at Churchill's Pub. And Bon Iver did it all without sacrificing any of its beauty and nuance.
A far cry from the group's mythic beginnings as one man by himself in a cabin, Bon Iver in 2012 is a nine-person collective of multi-instrumentalists with Vernon as its center. Within a single song, each member might play as many as four different instruments.
Midway through the show, limiting oneself to merely two instruments at once began to seem lazy; during "Holocene," and we wanted to strap a pair of knee cymbals to the gentleman simultaneously playing the trumpet and keyboards.
The band regularly transitioned between songs by building to a cacophonous crescendo that broke into the next number. There was a constant sense of exploration in the performance, a quest for new textures in songs that the devoted have heard countless times.
In spite of their reputation for being sedate, Bon Iver's recordings have always been intense -- though often only for listeners who surrender and allow themselves to be fully overtaken by the fragile world created in the studio. Live, however, things were hardly as delicate.
All but two of the songs from the band's second album were played, as well as one from the Blood Bank EP, Bon Iver's contribution to the Darkest Was the Night compilation, and about half of the first album. These older songs were often the most drastic reinventions.
On songs that had only known gentle acoustic strumming, there were now three electric guitars slicing and crushing at the once-breezy melodies. The expanded drum sections on some songs sounded like the clattering advance of damaged artillery rather than their established bucolic pep. The four horn players shifted between majestic fanfares and wounded horn howls.
But when Vernon ended his moment of solitary reflection to play "Re: Stacks," it was a stirring reminder of how beautiful his songs and voice are. On the studio recording, Vernon multi-tracks his voice and plays several acoustic guitars. At the Fillmore, it was just his aching falsetto, a bit of sizzling guitar, and the occasional gasp from the seats.
Often, live music is an attempt to approximate something captured in a studio. As exceptional as Bon Iver's recordings are, Bon Iver in concert is an entirely different creature. By turns defiant and pliant, pained and triumphant, with Bon Iver, the songs are not merely live but living.
Reviewer Bias: Even though I know those sexy tales are all made up, I'm jealous of the narrator of the Bon Iver Erotic Stories Tumblr.
Crowd Report: We were expecting the top 1,000 finalists in a Bon Iver lookalike contest (winner gets an autographed hoe) and their lovers but it was a fairly young, fresh-faced and surprisingly diverse audience. There was a good number of younger children accompanied by their parents. Vernon went as far as to thank these parents, remembering how meaningful it was for him as a kid to be able to go to Stone Temple Pilots and Soundgarden concerts because his parents brought him. It is, he said, "A huge thing you can give your kid."
Bon Iver was given a standing ovation at the end of the main set and the audience stayed standing throughout the encore.
What Certain Bon Iver Songs Are About, According to Justin Vernon Last Night:
"Re: Stacks": "Roughly about a gambling problem, the Dead Sea Scrolls, and getting blind drunk once in a while."
"Holocene": "This is a song about a bunch of different things."
"Towers": "About losing your virginity."
The Opener, The Staves: Three sisters from Watford, England, who sing in gorgeous close harmony with minimal instrumentation. They played a few songs with Rob, the violinist/guitarist/physicist/juggler from Bon Iver, including one untitled piece they were playing for the first time.
"We might call it 'Miami' to be in direct competition with Will Smith," one of the sisters said. They played would could be called folk. But their music is free of the affected pastiche that often mars the genre. Pure and powerful stuff.
Bon Iver's Setlist
-"Beth / Rest"