This week I went to see Bon Iver. He’s one of the few people in the world I have allowed myself to look up to. I won’t say he’s an idol, but I respect him, I yearn for his music, and I have followed him ever since I first heard ‘Woods’ played off a crackly vinyl at one in the morning on an indie show that’s now, like most things, gone.
Justin Vernon, the Bon Iver of Bon Iver, is a composer, orchestrating all these moving pieces in a way that makes for compelling and creative music; seeing him on stage felt how it must have felt to see Mozart.
Bon Iver’s music began by testing the boundaries of the human ear using a mix of electronica guitar and vocals. His first album, For Emma, Forever Ago, was one man and his cabin just trying to get it all out. Since then Bon Iver has followed electronica down its many hybrid paths, from the 80s synth styles of Holocene to the crunchy marching band drum of 10dEAThbREasT.
His studio music achieves an extremely high standard of technical and artistic finesse, but seeing him live reminded me what I love most about him: the voice.
At times Justin changed pitch, elongated or shortened phrases, or moved entirely away from the familiar studio feel. Although there is joy is singing along to your favourite song, knowing the words and trying to replicate what you love about the artist, in this moment of watching him experiment on stage I remembered the music belongs to him, and is merely given to us for a time.
Ultimately, Bon Iver’s playing cascaded into a cacophonous dissonance when his vocal experiments ran up against a bucket full of rain and faulty equipment. The playing came to an end as his music stuttered, staccato, fractured. It was a surreal moment to hear his voice come out over a soundsystem in a reverberated crackle, but right before the lights went out Justin kept going. Somehow, this modern Mozart took a faulty speaker and made it work. As the rain pummelled into his sound system, he took the desiccated music, and made it happen.
I think that’s what defines the artist. Whatever life gives, turn it to your advantage. Even if it’s not quite the same as hearing that first song for the very first time. Just do it. See where it takes you. Even when the lights go out.
Today’s review was written by Shane Vaughan. If you’d like to write something for us, send it in one het in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.