Bon Iver at the Orpheum, 9/6/11
Photos by Stacy Schwartz
September 6, 2011
Orpheum Theatre, Minneapolis
At this point, anything I might be able to say about Justin Vernon and his music, known as Bon Iver, might seem redundant. With the notorious local success story--Vernon released his first album, For Emma, back in 2008 after recording it all by his lonesome in a cabin in north Wisconsin--and the release of his self-titled sophomore album in June, the man behind Bon Iver has solidified his position as the reigning king of the Midwest music scene. He is universally acknowledged as one of the most brilliant songwriters of our generation, a man whose musical intuition swells up from any speaker and floods a room.
But Vernon receives his crown somewhat awkwardly. On stage at the Orpheum last night, flanked by an impressive nine-piece band (four guitarists, three horn musicians, and two drummers, most of whom were multi-instrumentalists, switching after every song to something else), the singer chatted almost nervously with the audience, thanking them repeatedly, humbly. At one point, he told the audience that he remembered sitting in the Orpheum for a John Prine show, and he seemed overwhelmed by his stance now, facing an adoring audience from the other side.
Sonically, the second album was a break from the sparse, haunting melodies found on For Emma. Vernon takes huge leaps, utilizing a full band to expand the sound, with standouts "Blood Bank" and "Perth" crescendoing up in an orchestra-like heartbreak. The band seemingly exploded from the stage as the musicians furiously worked their instruments, rapidly changing gears as every song seemed anthemic--indeed, they were, and every audience member felt it, sang back the lyrics, cheered, cried, hugged. I wondered for a moment why we subject ourselves to this emotion, raw and glorious though it is, over and over and over again. Why is it that we are only too willing to listen to Bon Iver on repeat, open up a bottle of anything, and be sad? Fans are willing to be excruciatingly devastated; is this our eternal human condition, this desire to dive into the river of sorrow that runs deep within us and let it drown us?
It might be. And in that lies the true brilliance of Vernon's music--beyond his falsetto that already sounds like tears, beyond his willingness to let his music simply exist around him, is his ability to define a naked and intense human need and give it sound. He accomplished it wildly last night at the Orpheum; he is sure to do it again tonight. It's a show and an experience you shouldn't miss.
Critic's Bias: I'm a crier. I'll just openly admit to that now.
Photos by Stacy Schwartz
The crowd: Pretty much 70% was friends and family of the artist, connected in some way to each other. Whenever one of the ushers showed someone to their seat, they ended up hugging whoever had to get up to let them into the aisle. Oh, and then there was this one really annoying row of girls behind me who kept laughing after every song. I wanted to punch them, until a security guard told them to shut up.
Overheard in the crowd: "Thank you for writing this song!" screamed one guy as Vernon began playing "Re: Stacks."
Random notebook dump: In an alternate universe inside my head, Vernon stopped the concert to invite all the men to participate in a beautiful beard contest.
For more photos: See our full slideshow by Stacy Schwartz.
The Wolves (Act I and II)
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