Bon Iver At Tripod

Bon Iver played to a full house at Tripod this week for one of his many, many 2008 Irish shows. I'll admit I was worried about the show due to (a) the tremendous hype surrounding Bon Iver and (b) the transition from one-man-band to full ensemble.

Click the readmore for conclusions, and some videos.

Whereas some of these fears were proven to be justified, the gig was a good one, and had some amazing moments. Hype-wise, it worked out well- I don't think Tripod is a venue that lends itself well to sell-out shows. It can get to the stage that it's uncomfortably packed, and if that's the case you're lucky to get anywhere with a decent view of the stage. Because of the reverential awe most audience members felt for Mr. Vernon & co. the crowd seemed quite civilized. There was no pushing & shoving, and certainly no talking. It was almost like going to the cinema...

The band featured Vernon & three other musicians playing a variety of instruments- all of whom contributing to the excellent harmonies for which the album is famous. Opening with a delicately powerful performance of Flume, I'm led to believe that the show may well turn out to be as amazing as all the crazyhype suggests. But it soon becomes evident that there are two problems. There have been some translation issues with the material. Obviously moving the songs from their multi-layered, lo-fi incarnations to the realm of full bands and live shows has involved the making of some decisions as to the arrangements, and unfortunately they don't always work.

There is a hint of overstatement about some tracks- where everything is embellished, and everything is announced. 'For Emma, Forever Ago' features some fantastic moments of pure spontaneity, none more obvious than in the track Creature Fear. On the record the chorus crashes in from nowhere, where every instrument spilling out notes blissfully. At Tripod the chorus of this song is preceded by the strumming equivalent of someone shouting 'HERE COMES THE CHORUS!'. This seemed to occur a lot- movements were announced either by the guitars or the drums, and it seemed unfortunate that the inventiveness of the songs was suffering.

When the arrangements were right, however, they were hella right. Skinny Love was played with three drummers, all building to a crescendo that is truly spine-tingling; and Blindsided gets an interesting & welcome accompaniment by some retro-sounding 808 electronic drums. At points like these, and when Vernon plays RE: Stacks on his own as part of the encore, it's clear that these songs are something special.

The main question is whether or not lightning will strike twice. The band obviously have a shortage of material- the album has nine songs, and the set only contains one new one, Blood Bank, which seems more traditional alt-rock than anything else, and makes me wonder where the followup to 'For Emma...' is going to go. Eager to give the audience a full show, the band have filled out the set with three covers. The first, a Graham Nash song, seems strangely like a song from a musical, but is interesting enough to make an acceptable addition. The second was a Talk Talk cover, which frankly didn't work and for probably the only time during the show had people chatting or hitting the bar.

The show concluded with the third cover, a Sarah Siskind track, and the performance of this song embodied everything that's great about Bon Iver. It's a vocal led song, and the band all huddled around a single microphone to contribute. I'm not going to tell you how good this was, you're going to have to watch it for yourself. Here's a video from their New York show, featuring The Bowerbirds:

All in all, while the gig had it's flaws, in pointing them out I'm really just nitpicking. From an album this good, expectations for the live show were always going to be unrealistic, and the Saskind song alone made the show a good one. Bon Iver will be back in December, and I highly recommend that anyone not yet converted should check it out (tickets here). Let's just hope for the sake of the regulars that Vernon have a chance to pen a few more tunes in the meantime.

While I'm posting about Bon Iver, here's an outtake from their Blogotheque sessions which features a pretty bitchin accapella version of For Emma:

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