This is an attempt to explain Bon Iver's gig last night in Tripod (moved from an overbooked Crawdaddy, apparently). Just an attempt.
When I was a kid, Christmas Day was probably my favourite day of the year. To be honest, it probably still is. I love Christmas, but I'll come back to that in a later post.
I usually woke first (I don't think I ever slept soundly on Christmas Eve) and I would sneak out of my room and go to wake my little sister. We would then creep quietly down the stairs of our Galway house, usually this was at about 4 or 5 in the morning. Cracking open the sitting room door, the image that stays with me to this day is the shimmery and shiny glow of whatever presents Mr Claus had left out for us, in the same old chairs every year. That feeling in my stomach of innocent, undiluted happiness/giddiness/excitement is a difficult feeling to recapture but by Jesus it happened last night, at the best live performance I have ever seen.
Justin Vernon performs as Bon Iver alongside Mike Noyce and Sean Carey and after two abysmal support acts, they arrived onstage at around 10pm. I had received an email earlier about the gig being moved to Tripod and had been fairly pissed off about it. 'Crawdaddy would have been perfect' was what I proclaimed to anyone that would listen but to be fair Tripod was nicely organised with a floor full of tables and a nicely lit auditorium. Vernon set himself up to the right of the stage with an electric guitar. Erk, I thought, but I needn't have worried.
His album, For Emma Forever Ago, was played in its entirety (with the order of the two concluding songs reversed) with nearly every song being tweaked and played with, solos inserted, guitar/percussion loudness-factor added and vocals amplified hugely. It worked amazingly well.
Other acts change their songs for touring and end up making a balls of them but this was absolutely different. Attempting to translate the delicacy and fragility of the album would have been a mistake and so new beasts were necessarily created. Vernon's voice hit every note but had a power that I had not expected. The added electric guitar and occasionally booming percussion complemented the songs perfectly and never washed out the plaintive voices of both Justin and Mike, the latter proving himself brilliantly on guitar and singing duties.
That Christmas giddiness stayed with me from the opening note to the final standing ovation and when Vernon did Re: Stacks on his own, you could have heard a pin drop in the loudest silence I'll ever hear. He had organised a singalong earlier for The Wolves which everyone joined in with, not a hint of shyness to be found in the room. His dry wit relaxed everyone in the middle of what are some very personal songs and finding out he had spent four months living in my hometown of Galway in 2003, selling mobile phones, just seemed to personalise the gig even more.
I blogged about him when I first started There Will Be Blog this year and it was thanks to a piece by Laura Barton (one of The Guardian's finest and most passionate writers) that I discovered Bon Iver when I did. It's a masterpiece and an album I've probably listened to every day since I first got it. The National's Whelans gig was amazing. When I saw NOFX in the Redbox, I had a nostalgia overload. Bonnie Prince Billy, Final Fantasy, Jeff Tweedy - all were amazing. But Bon Iver eclipses all these gigs and for that I thank them..him...you know what I mean.
11 minutes ago