Monday, April 14, 2008

Bon Iver--Lakeshore Theater, Chicago, Illinois

(Our "No-Depression" guest writer returns after absorbing Bon Iver at the Lakeshore Theater.)

Bon Iver is derived from the French, meaning good winter. Poetic indeed, but rumor has it Justin Vernon’s moniker came from Northern Exposure, the loony TV show about a big city doctor practicing medicine in rural Alaska. In a particular episode, characters repeatedly greeted one another during winter with “Bon Hiver”. Convalescing from breakups with a girlfriend and a band, Vernon retreated to a hunting cabin in northwestern Wisconsin, finding inspiration and solitude in the countryside. There over the course of three months in the dead of winter he churned out the introspective album, For Emma, Forever Ago. Bon Iver released it sans sponsorship and caused rumblings on silly little music blogs. Jagjaguwar caught wind, signed him and gave it an official release in February.

Opening for Bon Iver was Josh Scott, a fidgety young man with perfectly mussed blonde hair. He filled the quietness of the theater in between songs with incomprehensible, blundering dialogue that to his credit was funny at times. He attacked the unsuspecting seated audience in the front row like a stand-up comedian, and even threw a few zingers Bon Iver’s way by playfully mispronouncing his name. An act that seemed a little salty at first became uncomfortably amusing. Oh and he sang a few songs with his electric guitar, too.

Bon Iver’s haunting, high-pitched voice evoked a sense of self-awareness and reflection. Impressive for this flannel-clad, lumberjack of a man to sing ninety percent of the time in falsetto - a sure sign of a secure man! Vernon’s wandering vocals were tethered nicely to the ground by simple almost tribal-like beats. The songs had direction. The pulsatile rhythm of “The Wolves (Act I and II)” mimicked a heart beating slowly as if calm and meditative, only to begin racing, fueled by anger and heartache. Depressing as it may seem, Vernon’s eerie voice at times morphed into a gentle cooing, giving the performance a distinct tinge of promise. Imagine a candle burning in a window on a dead cold night, lovers walking arm in arm through a snowstorm, or a groundhog seeing his naked shadow in front of millions on network TV. Bon Iver gave us something to hope for in this carefully orchestrated cold and darkness. It was the key difference between my reacting to his music by wanting to kill myself versus being hopeful for the coming of spring. At the end, Vernon’s support quietly left the stage leaving him alone, thawing us out with the last track of his album, “Re: Stacks” - it’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away/ your love will be/ safe with me. Whether it was the onset of hay season or an intensely fragile moment, Vernon graciously thanked the audience while wiping tears from his eyes.

--Audrey Wen

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