The 9 person outfit that is Bon Iver, live, has become a full realization of the 2011 self-titled, second record. In Austin, Texas, Tuesday night at the Long Center for The Performing Arts, those ideas, fragments and soundscapes presented on the recent record become their own musical vernacular in a live setting, a testament to Justin Vernon’s vision for Bon Iver, the record.
With an orchestral setting as beautiful as the Long Center, all the little pieces crafted by Vernon on Bon Iver, Bon Iver to the bare bones of first record, For Emma, (and to a few choice song surprises) come into full light. Colin Stetson’s bass sax solo on Lisbon, OH, Reggie Pace’s beat-boxing on the Bjork penned, Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right), the violins on Wash., and the harmonies, beauiful— at times, 7-8 parts deep. Vernon lead vocal, an instrument of it’s own, leads the way as it does on Wash., but takes a back seat with this band, as each song and performer wraps around his vocal and fills the spaces between words— many of which are rooted in nonsense, sounds, and should remain indecipherable or meaningful to each listener differently. Maybe this as Vernon intended on record, to convey emotion vs. meaning, of a place that only has sounds to describe it— it becomes clearly evident with the live ‘Iver.’ It’s ‘Emma’s’ bare songs that provide subtle breathers for this band until the very end; especially Flume, and the hootenanny-like performance of Skinny Love, to the communal closing of The Wolves (Acts 1 & 2).
With so many highlights comprising the Bon Iver musical vernacular, it’s hard to pick the most important pieces apart— as they all work so well together— but nothing completes Vernon’s ideas for what Bon Iver has become without the mesmerizing double percussion parts by Matthew McCaughan and Sean Carey. Both members carry Vernon’s fragmented compositions to new, emotional territories in a live setting. Each giving muscle where muscle is lacking in Vernon’s songs.
If one thing’s for certain after seeing the 9-piece Bon Iver, this is a band that is truly loved and respected for it’s musicianship by it’s leader. Each member fulfilling Vernon’s idea of what Bon Iver was, is now and what it seeks to become. See this band now in a theater near you while you can.
Kathleen Edwards, the oft-over-looked Canadian songwriter, has put out 3 great records in the last decade. She opened the night with Goodnight, California, the haunting closing cut off of Asking For Flowers, and proceeded to mesmerize the Austin crowd with her 2-man band. Edwards’ voice, and piano, echoed throughout the theater on Mercury, turning it inside out from the recorded version. Sidemen, and a wonderful song-writer of his own, Jim Bryson, helped carry Edwards’ newer songs, Wapusk, and Change the Sheets, with subtle keys and acoustic guitar effects. Her new record was produced by Justin Vernon this past winter and is due in January 2012.
For all the goosebumps and pindrops one could take in at the Long Center on a crispy, hot, night in Austin, Edwards’ rendition of The Flaming Lips’ Feeling Yourself Disintegrate, to close her opening set, almost stole the thunder right out of Bon Iver’s set— and judging by the outpouring of respect Vernon has for his band, crew, and the fans, I’m sure he didn’t mind. Edwards’ performance of the Lips’ deep cut off of The Soft Bulletin was a thing of haunting, devastating, beauty— and a perfect summary of the night itself.