Posts Tagged ‘Bon Iver’


Letter to a friend re: Bon Iver

September 29, 2011

Dear E:

June 27, 2008. That’s the date when you emailed me with a recommendation to listen to a band I had never heard of: Bon Iver, who had put out an album called For Emma, Forever Ago. In the email you nailed it when you said, “Let the song “Flume” make you weep like a baby.”

Sometimes when you get deeply into an artist, you lose sight of how the enchantment began. To be honest, I had forgotten how I got turned on to Bon Iver (Justin Vernon and his bandmates). I vaguely recalled learning about Vernon from a friend in email, but I didn’t remember who and when. Gmail search gave me the answer in a millisecond.

So now, more than three years later, I’m writing to say thank you. Thank you so much for knowing me well enough and taking the time to suggest that I check out Bon Iver’s music. I had no idea at the time where the music would take me. And it’s taken me to unexpected places.

Specifically, it took me to Raleigh, North Carolina. Months ago we were lucky enough to get tickets to this week’s Bon Iver show at the Orpheum Theatre. Awhile later we booked a trip to North Carolina to visit family, and M found out that Bon Iver was performing in Raleigh, an hour and a half drive from where we were staying. The brilliant idea came up of going to the concert, even though we already had tickets to the Vancouver show.

After mulling it over we decided to go for it, because we thought it would be special given that Vernon lived in Raleigh during a critical period in his musical development (read this very good feature on Vernon’s Raleigh years in the Independent Weekly), and simply because when you have a chance to see Bon Iver, you take it. Plus I’ve never seen an artist twice on the same tour, so this gave a unique opportunity to compare performances two months apart. Finally, I love going to shows in foreign places; some of my best concert memories are from other cities – being somewhere else adds to the uniqueness of a performance.

So the three of us, including Miles (who has become a huge Bon Iver fan – those screamo/death metal days are a distant memory) made our way to the concert at the Raleigh Amphitheater, an outdoor venue. The heat in Raleigh that day was insane – the high was about 104°F. By showtime in the evening, it was still pretty hot, so that might have affected our ability to enjoy the show. That said, it was a wonderful concert. Aside from Vernon’s magnetic falsetto singing and all-round musicality, I was struck by how much was going on with the eight-piece band. The musicians adeptly switched between multiple instruments – from electric guitar to violin to keyboards to french horn and beyond – which made for a sumptuous aural palette. Despite the heat, and the somewhat soulless venue, we were glad we went to the show.

Art shot (ie photo that didn’t turn out) of Bon Iver at the Raleigh Amphitheater:

Bon Iver in Raleigh, North Carolina

Vids I took of Bon Iver in Raleigh:

We went to the Orpheum with the kind of anticipation you have before seeing an extraordinary artist for the first time, even though it wasn’t. The anticipation paid off – it was as perfect a show as I could imagine. The Raleigh concert was early in the tour, so the band was still developing chemistry. At the Orpheum, the musicians sounded completely in sync. The songs – from Bon Iver’s two albums and one ep – sounded like they were fully realized versions of Vernon’s vision (that alliteration wasn’t intentional).

There were some differences between the shows. In Raleigh, Bon Iver did a terrific obscure cover of Björk’s “Who Is It (Carry My Joy on the Left, Carry My Pain on the Right)”, featuring multi-instrumentalist Reggie Pace as a human beat box; they didn’t do that tune in Vancouver. But here, there seemed to be more opportunities for the musicians – like saxophonist/circular breathing whiz Colin Stetson and drummer/keyboardist Sean Carey – to stretch out. The sound was also better at the Orpheum, not to mention the non-sweltering temperature.

In my world, getting a tip on a new band is the best possible gift. Through a casual email, you gave me that gift. So thank you.


Jian Ghomeshi did an insightful interview with Justin Vernon on Q – check out the interview.

Compare and contrast – “For Emma” and “The Wolves (Act I and II)” in Vancouver: