"What the f@$% Justin Vernon?"
That's how I pretty much ended my review of the new album, and now that's how I'll start this review of his bands performance last night at the 9:30 Club.
The biggest question at hand is where was this Justin Vernon when his albums were being made? Assembling a 8 piece orchestra to perform your work isn't an easy feat..bringing together a great one is damn near impossible, yet there before me lay the powerful, sublime, and quite frankly perfect, Bon Iver “orchestra” turning "lead" into gold, over and over again.
Let's make one thing clear. On record Vernon can be terrifically one note. And unless you happen to be in that particular mood, it just doesn't work..for me at least. But from the opening strains of “Perth” to the near end of set appearance of “Calgary” (both from the new self titled album), this band managed to create a monster out of some very meak, yet apparently wonderful, material.
Taking a cue from Radiohead’s In Rainbows tour set, lights cascade down behind the band as song like “Flume” become full on rock anthems. 3 part horn sections ran rampant around songs like “Michicant” as the background flickered and flashed, bathing the band in gorgeous yellows and deep, troubling reds for songs like “Blood Bank” and a sing/scream along version of "The Wolves" from Bon Iver's debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. The band even managed to pull of a remarkable version, of Bjork's "Who Is It", just because they felt like it.
So I say again...what the f#$% Justin Vernon?
It's unclear if this band, this orchestra that has been assembled is an afterthought or a master plan. It doesn't really matter though because either way, it's f@#@ing working.
Energizing and exciting, this was a set that completely took me by surprise and gives me hope for this particular bands future. And I do mean band. This group of musicians has glommed onto Vernon’s work and made it breath where it was once cold and sterile. They have found life in that one note that Vernon is so good at, and in that life is an endless possibility for where this all can go in the future. Justin Vernon, you would be a fool to not make your career with this fantastic group of musicians you've assembled, but I fully expect that you'll just do whatever it is you feel like. Still, what's been created here is enough to keep me hanging on, and I guess the only real question to be had is what, exactly comes next?
Oh wait..”Beth/Rest” comes next.
Look man. I get that you think it's cool, even though it's not Hornsby your emulating. He's actually a pretty damn good musician (I'm old. Sue me). It's Peter f@#@ing Cetera that you're violating here, and it's really sort of grotesque. The reality of the situation is that some of us had to live through this s@## once, and we've put it behind us. Now thanks to you it keeps coming back. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; It's not ironic, funny or poignant, it’s just crap, so please stop it. Seriously. If you don’t I’ll mail you my cassette tape of the Karate Kid 2 Soundtrack with “Glory of Love” on it and then you’ll finally know what true horror you threaten to unleash upon this world with this goddamn song. The set, much like the new album, was fairly perfect up to this poin. But once this song reared it's horrifically lame head, there was nothing left for this reviewer to do but slap a palm to the forehead and head for the door.
Ahem..where was I.
“Beth/Rest” notwithstanding (and it’s really, REALLY hard to ignore it, but I’ll give it a try for the sake of decency) what was delivered tonight was nothing short of a masterstroke of musicianship…or almost was. But I can’t fault the entire evening for one GIANT mistake. The fact remains that this is,despite itself, one of the best performances you'll see this year and you need to make sure that you see this band now because they may not last till Vernon’s next project. And even if they do there’s no guarantee that it won’t be totally infected with “Beth/Rest”-itis. So go now, and go often. Just keep a wary eye out for that island of "meh" in a wide ocean of musical magic.