Concert Review: Bon Iver at Mountain Park 8/6

At Bon Iver’s Saturday night concert at the outdoor venue, Mountain Park, a lot of people were probably a little ticked off.  It wasn’t because of the music (which was exceptional), or the rainy conditions (which only added to the atmosphere of the evening).  It was the fact that many of us had just driven to Holyoke for hours, solely because we couldn’t get tickets to Bon Iver’s sold-out Boston show.  Regardless, the tired, hungry and poor travelers who unloaded themselves out of their cars and onto the picturesque Mountain Park hill definitely got their gas money’s worth.

Seeing Bon Iver in concert allows you to confirm one of the biggest misconceptions in music: Bon Iver is not just a brooding man with an acoustic guitar.  That title was fitting and convenient back when For Emma, Forever Ago came out, but Justin Vernon didn’t want to keep writing broken-hearted love songs in a Wisconsin cabin.  It was time to move on, and the result wasn’t contrived at all. Both his new and old material translated beautifully live, thanks to his nine-piece band, which was meticulously arranged (at least 2 different guitars were swapped in and out for each song).  The new songs were all explosively loud, something you would never expected from Vernon in 2007.  Through the live show, you’re better able to understand the enigma that is Justin DeYarmond Edison Vernon.  He was stone-cold serious enough to retreat into the woods after a breakup, yet onstage he presents a playful and whip-smart sense of humor.  When it first began to rain (and when the scent of weed began to waft), he quipped that the audience has a choice: “Stay dry… or don’t.”  Look, the sulking mountain man just made a funny!  I swear to God, the man is a human Rubik’s Cube.

And this versatility was just not limited to Vernon’s personality.   I was amazed by his ability to transition between tones.  He moved with ease into a subtle solo performance of “Flume” after a stunning electric rendition of “Blood Bank.”  The band took the quiet tune, which Vernon wrote during the For Emma sessions, and turned it into arena-filling rock and roll.  The plugged-in version of the once-mellow song, and seeing Vernon get down on his knees to shred, may have taken listeners by surprise, but I thought it was a well-executed experiment that yet again proved the band’s ability to switch it up.

The rain really started to come down when the band returned for their three-song encore.  I don’t think anyone should even be allowed to listen to “Beth/Rest” if it’s not done while standing in a field in the pouring rain.  The song is that epic.  The anthem, with its swooping guitars and synthesizers, and the so-wrong-it’s-right use of autotune, is Vernon’s favorite song on the album.  You could definitely sense his happiness in playing the tune.  And overall, that’s just what seeing Bon Iver live does for the fans.  Regardless of whether you can understand the messages beneath the infamously dense lyrics, Bon Iver live is an experience that can’t help but remind you of the sheer joy that music is supposed to bring. Well, at least until you get back in the car to make the two hour drive home.


Posted on by Caroline in Concert Review

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