He played through most of his latest album, Shallow Grave, doing well-played and clear renditions of each track. To end his set he played a heartfelt and soaring rendition of Nico’s "These Day’s" (the song Margot walks off the bus to in Royal Tenenbaums for you Wes Anderson fans out there). The crowd roared lightly as he walked off the stage. And as the lights went up a bit he was seen walking back on stage to remove his own instruments, and amplifier, and retreat back stage as the crowd murmured in anticipation of Justin Vernon’s Bon Iver.
The stage is littered with instruments, if I didn’t know who was playing I might have guessed it was Sufjan Stevens or even Mogwai with as much gear as was strewn about. Thax Douglas, Chicago indie poet, got up before Bon Iver was about to come on and delivered his inaugural poem for Bon Iver (referencing them as the former members of DeYarmond Edison). After Thax finished and Bon Iver came onto the stage the crowd screamed, and kept screaming for a bit, obviously a few people had already had their fair share of drinks. This was one of the most anticipated shows of the Chicago calendar, sold out for weeks and tickets going on Craigslist for almost $100.
If you’d spent your days leading up to the show listening to their debut release you would have been pretty thrown off by this performance. Instead of the sweet, slow, beautiful melodies that Vernon and his crew had made us accustomed to they delivered a performance that was pulling in all directions. There was 2 drum sets and extra percussion on stage, reminiscent of other indie acts these days. But unlike groups artists like Anathallo, who have mastered the art of multiple percussionists, it didn’t work. The beats were too heavy for the music and often seemed forced.
Every song seemed to be slower than the last. It was almost as if they knew they didn’t have enough material to be the headliner so they were trying to drag out their repertoire as long as possible. If you tried to sing or hum along you found yourself always a beat or two ahead. Expecting great folk rock the crowd was delivered a smattering of poorly done noise-rock, dragging rock n’ roll, and over powered songs from the new Blood Bank EP.
The usual sing-along to "Wolves (Act I and II)," where Vernon tells the crowd to sing “What might have been lost” along with him as they build and build, was replaced with him telling the crowd to scream their hearts out. Everyone took that literally and the room was soon filled with drunken screams and brash guitar sounds, not exactly fitting for this type of show.
The highlight of their performance was when the whole band except Vernon left the stage and he performed "Re: Stacks"alone. It was beautiful, filled with the soulful emotion that has made him one of the most loved songwriters of 2008. The show wrapped up with a cover of a cover of The Outfield’s "Your Love" and ending their show with the title track off the new Blood Bank EP.
After the show ended everyone rushed to grab the pre-release vinyl only Blood Bank EP, sold by a man constantly screaming that they were out but were looking for me. The Tallest Man on Earth sat quietly at the end of the merchandise table selling his own wares, with a few buyers. “I hope to see you again, thank you very much for coming, have a wonderful evening” he said to me after short conversation about the night. Bon Iver might have a hard time maintaining the popularity they’ve enjoyed, but Kristian Matsson…he has exactly what folk music has been looking for, no gimmicks, no big band, no show, just great music.