Thursday, September 27, 2012

Bon Iver @Radio City Music Hall, Sept. 21st

I had made up my mind a long time ago that I probably would never bother seeing Bon Iver again after the first time I caught him four years ago at the Bowery Ballroom.  Not because I dislike the band -- far from it.  That concert was so intimate, so perfect, that I knew catching Justin Vernon again in a larger venue would never recapture the magic we felt that night.  But when I randomly checked Ticketmaster a week before his four show run at one of the city's largest venues, Radio City Music Hall, I managed to pull up a front row pit ticket that was impossible to refuse.  So I bought myself an early birthday present and prepared myself to see him on night 3.

(More words, pics and a setlist after the jump.)

My expectations going into the show were tempered.  I have to admit that having spent the past year on and learning to consider Bon Iver as one of the "safe" choices for DJing on the site has somewhat affected my eagerness for the band.  Also, I doubted whether anything would top that first time I saw Bon Iver, when I practically knew nothing about them.

Yet, here we were at a venue that dwarfs Bowery Ballroom by a factor of 11.  In fact, the last time I was at Radio City Music Hall was for a lecture by the Dalai Lama, and while his energy radiated well beyond this impressive venue, I wasn't certain Bon Iver could do the same.  I waltzed down to the very front of the auditorium and worried whether the sound would be distorted, being so close, but to my delight, the sound levels for both the opener and Bon Iver were fine.

The opener was someone Vernon later described as a "hero" of his -- a Canadian singer-songwriter named Doug Paisley.  He came onto the stage by himself only with an acoustic guitar, playing a rather straight forward set.  I felt his songs were pleasant but he would have been better appreciated in a venue like the Living Room.  His deep but gentle voice reminded me of a Townes Van Zandt type.  I enjoyed his humble demeanor but wondered whether he was an appropriate choice to warm up the crowd with his steady, quiet set.

No matter, Bon Iver came on just after 9:15pm, as promised since they were streaming the performance online.  The band was now over twice as large as when I had seen them at Bowery, including two sets of drums, and a brass section.  They opened with the thundering "Perth" and I knew this was going to be a hell of a show.  The reason for going to a large venue like Radio City is for the impressive light show that often enhances the music, and that it did, setting the mood.

I was content to discover that despite the augmentation in size, Bon Iver has not lost the raw emotional power that was so quintessential to their songs.  Vernon's falsetto still ripped me apart (though he was kind of a goofball while talking in between songs).  I was especially moved by his solo performance of "Woods" from his Blood Bank EP, while shrouded in darkness.  I originally had dismissed it as an unnecessarily autotuned composition, but seeing him perform it live by looping his own voice over a dozen times and layering them in a blistering harmony totally floored me, much like that impossibly beautiful cover of "Lovin's For Fools" I saw Bon Iver do with the Bowerbirds years ago.

The show ended quite a bit short of the 11pm curfew, coming in at about 85 minutes, leaving me wanting more, but as far as what had transpired, I loved it all, especially in comparison to 2008.  Bon Iver has truly evolved in great ways.

I guess this is why I keep seeing live music.

No comments: