A friend of mine, who did not attend the Bon Iver show at The Fillmore Wednesday night, described the band’s music as a soft, white, pillow. Though pillows can be nice and comforting, he said this with a bit of a negative connotation. And I have to admit, before Wednesday night’s show, I would’ve agreed with him-though I actually like the idea of a soft white pillow; it’s cozy, loving, and always there to catch your tired mind. The same notion parallels both of Bon Iver’s recorded albums- they are quiet, understanding, and gentle. But if we expected a cuddly and warm experience, one where we could almost smell a burning fireplace and hear the winds outside of our little cabin blow, well hell, we were wrong.
But for those audience members who really craved that kind of whispered tranquility, they would’ve definitely enjoyed the opening band, The Staves. They were three girls with impeccable voices, that when blended together produce a crisp and ear pleasing harmony that stretches across a surface, providing a textural topography with smooth edges in which their voices glide over effortlessly. Accompanied by no more than three instruments, (two of the girls played guitar and ukelele, and a few songs were played alongside a member of Bon Iver) their voices were the true focus of the show. People sat quietly taking it all in, which they showed their appreciation for by saying, “It’s nice having a quiet audience, cause we’re a quiet band”, though the crowd would erupt in cheers after nearly every song- It’s safe to say they impressed us.
Then Bon Iver, now a nine piece live band, stepped onto the stage to face an ecstatic and diverse crowd of young couples, parents and their youthful children, and clusters of 20-something year old friends, drinking and conversing amongst themselves, piled into the seats and getting comfortable. Opening with “Perth”, the lightly crescendo’d song took no time to explode into a giant landscape of sound, filling the venue with an unexpected air of turbulence and released tension. Was this the supposed sad and sleepy man we thought we knew? The restful, barefooted musician as portrayed by Justin Timberlake on Saturday Night Live? Well, the real Justin Vernon showed us that we really never know what we’re going to get when we see a band live. There are so many different aspects to someone’s recorded music, and as a band plays those tracks live, throughout time they could either get closer to the desired perfection of the album recordings, or they can steer away from that pristine sound and create something new and just as beautiful. And that’s what Bon Iver did.
The live show transformed the music we’d come to love and care for into it’s own separate entity, adapting to it’s new environment. But what allowed this metamorphosis to be successful is that the songs still had the same root and origin. Like a tree, the live versions of the songs were merely branches from their own personal beginnings. They all still came from the same place, the same words, the same feelings, the same heartbreak. One of the songs that illustrated that most, was the sensational and intimate, “Re: Stacks”, played by solely Justin and his electric guitar, with a white spotlight pouring down from above him.
For those five minutes and thirty seconds, the audience sat in utter silence, completely enraptured by his amplified voice, dripping with emotion as he howled achingly, “This is not the sound of a new man or crispy realization, It’s the sound of the unlocking and the lift away. Your love will be safe with me”.
The crowd roared passionately, as they did with all of the revamped climaxes in other songs played- because honestly, the level and energy that was given to us was not expected, so the only way we could really react was to scream and howl for more, and if you ask me, it’s a beautiful thing to have no control of your reactions. And because of Miami’s seemingly unhinged level of appreciation, Vernon said this of our town, “Thanks for listening, God damn. We’re like, playing for people who actually care. Yeah, that’s like, pretty amazing. Jeez”. It was the kind of response that made me more proud of Miami than ever before. And his gratitude for our enthusiasm was made evident in the performances.
They enjoyed themselves, and that is contagious. Even when encoring with the usually sad “Skinny Love,” after a standing ovation, the audience remained out of their seats, and the venue danced along to a refreshingly more hopeful version of the song. He was actually smiling. Closing the show with “For Emma,” the crowd danced, some holding hands and beaming towards their lovers, friends swaying and singing, clutching their drinks, and little kids smiling up at their parents, mentally thanking them for the experience- for in that night, they’d discovered what music is all about.
“Beth / Rest”
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