Last night, I had probably the most visceral experience of my life, watching Bon Iver perform live at the Tivoli in Brisbane. To call it sublime would be an understatement.
It was over two years ago (side note: how fast is time going these days? I mean, honestly…) that the dulcet tones of Justin Vernon first made their ways to my ears. I managed to catch the tail end of the Hazeltons days/post DeYarmond Edison days, but really – if I’m honest – I was probably only fully hooked when I first heard Skinny Love. It’s a cardinal sin to admit something like that, when you’re a music blogger (especially considering the strength of the Hazeltons era), but that’s the moment when I realised that this was… different. That there was something transcendent in this music. So when the news made its way to me that Bon Iver would be performing at the Tivoli, I knew I would be going.
And man, am I glad I did.
The gig was a sit down affair, which was a first for me at the Tivoli; but it complemented the night perfectly. First up, I have to talk about the crowd that was there that night. I’ve now been to more than my fair share of gigs at the Tivoli; but last night had, without a doubt, the best crowd of any gig that I have been to there. You always take a slight chance, in my opinion, with gigs at the Tiv: it’s such an intimate, beautiful setting, but sometimes you can get some really belligerent concert goers there (for some reason, they always seem to crawl out of the woodwork for the Ryan Adams gigs)… but last night, the Tiv was packed to the rafters with appreciative music fans. And it was an atmosphere that Justin and co. were definitely feeding off. For probably the first time, I truly believed an artist when they said, “You guys have just been the best audience”.
Because they were.
I’m getting slightly ahead of myself though. First up was the opening act, and for the life of me I could not hear the girl’s name. (update: @lexiphanic mentions in the comments below that the opening act was McKisko). This didn’t surprise me, as it was the same girl who opened up for Sophie Koh and Howie Day at the Troubadour last year, and I had the same trouble then. Regardless, “Performer X” has certainly improved since that last performance, but I was still left… cold, with her performance. There’s an attitude of avante-garde “raw emotion” to her stuff, but it comes across as a facade; too calculated, an “art school pastiche” for me to really believe it. I can hear there’s talent there, but I think this girl still needs a year or two to find herself, and I really hope she does.
After “Performer X”, it was time for Bon Iver to come on… and with an unassuming, “Hey everybody”, Justin and co. launched straight into Flume; and what a killer opening it was. I managed to catch a few videos of last night, and made sure I got the opening number; so here, below, is Bon Iver opening the night at the Tivoli, with “Flume”.
After that opening, the crowd simply fell, and fell hard, for Bon Iver.
There was just something in the air, that give and take between performer and crowd that meant the energy was simply electric, and unlike anything I have ever felt before. Nowhere was that connection better displayed than in the third song Bon Iver played, “The Wolves (Act I & II)”. (By the way, we all know my love for that tune as I featured it back here. Check out the video).
Justin introduced the song by asking the crowd to sing along with the band… and how we all did! The sheer emotion running through the crowd as we all sang, “What might have been lost…”, and the screaming towards the end was a sheer visceral moment that I think I will always remember. If ever emotion took hold of me, it was in that tune, and I was screaming along unashamedly as the song closed. I managed to get the whole thing on video, but unfortunately because of the noise levels towards the end with everyone screaming (in that last two minutes), it slightly turns into a sheer wall of sound; so you can’t quite hear what really happened that night. But trust me when I say it was beautiful.
Anyway: below, Bon Iver performing “The Wolves (Act I & II)”, live at the Tivoli.
Truly, truly magical, and a moment I will take with me for years to come.
After that, I have to admit, the night passed in a bit of an ecstatic blur for me… while I’m normally quite good at making a note of the setlist, that night I kind of blissed out and slacked in that duty a bit. However, for those who are interested, here is the set list as I recall it; that said, I’m sure there might be some errors or omissions in this, so feel free to drop a line in the comments if I’ve got something wrong below, and I’ll be sure to update the post.
Bon Iver at the Tivoli in Brisbane, 17/1/2009 setlist
2. Lump Sum
3. The Wolves (Act I & II)
4. Beach Baby
5. Blood Bank
6. re: Stacks
7. For Emma
8. Lovin’s for Fools (Sarah Siskind cover)
9. Babys (and yes, they do spell it that way. Check out the Blood Bank release)
10. Skinny Love
11. Creature Fear
Highlights of the set for me? Well, apart from the obvious answer of “Everything!”, I’d have to go with the previously mentioned “Wolves”, “Blood Bank” (which I featured back here, by the way, and which had an insanely frenetic guitar line at the end), and the solo rendition of “re: Stacks”. Unfortunately I didn’t manage to get the entire performance of “re: Stacks” on camera, but I did manage to get just over 5 minutes of it, so I’ve included it below. The vulnerabilty of that man, lit up on stage is breathtaking.
And, of course, where would we be without mentioning “Skinny Love”? Sheer fragile beauty, combined with powerful, ravaging emotion (watch that floor tom being beaten towards the end of the track… that’s the very definition of cathartic music, in my opinion). In other words, the performance was perfection…
All in all, I can say this, without any fear of hyperbole… Bon Iver at the Tivoli was one of the best gigs I have ever been to. Without a doubt, without hesitation. I look back on this post, and I know that no matter how many times I rewrite this, I’ll never be able to truly convey the magic that transpired there that night. It was simply too big, too huge to post about. Those that were there will no what I mean when I say that. So really, all that’s left to say is thanks; so thanks to Justin and Co, for sharing that perfect night with us. We hope you come back soon, because until then… we’ll be waiting.
28 replies on “Bon Iver, live at the Tivoli in Brisbane – 17 Jan, 2009”
The opening act is called McKisko. :)
I feel she started slowly but I found the latter half of her set was quite good.
The main act, however, were really very incredible. I have had more religious experiences at other concerts, but this was probably the best *in Australia* I’ve ever attended.
Agreed, such a great show!
Thanks Greg, I’ve updated the post accordingly! Yep, the second half of her set was definitely better… it seemed far more natural to me. Which is why I hope they manage to break through that facade that they seemed to portray at the beginning, because I really do think there’s potential there.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Fanastic post – will be reading it over and over again.
Thanks Eddie, the kind words are much appreciated brother :)
You summed up the evening perfectly. Just in case I think that last night was all but a beautiful, incredible, fantastic dream, I will return to this blog so I know it was a beautiful, incredible fantastic reality.
And thank you Bon Iver!
Thanks so much for stopping by js; I think your comment summed up the night better than my post ever could :P
It was a great night. Thanks for documenting it… As I was watching the performance I was fervently hoping that there was a passionate blogger amongst the crowd!
No problem… wish I could have done a more thorough review, but it was one of those performances where you just find yourself completely losing yourself in the night. Thanks for the comment :)
Great coverage, holy crap! Well done. I would love the opportunity for such an evening – it happens rarely in Canada that such an artist really tours here and you get to capture what you have been listening to all this time.
I have to admit the original self released copy didn’t catch my ear, I mean it was good, but I had to listen to it more than a few times before I truly appreciated it. Now I don’t know what I would have done without having heard Vernon’s music.
Thanks for the post!
Thanks so much for coming by the blog! I feel your pain; before I moved to Australia, I lived in South Africa in a town called Durban, and we were often starved for international acts touring, especially to Durban. For years I had to watch online coverage of concerts, wishing I had the opportunity to see them live.
I’m not sure where exactly in Canada you’re based, but just in case… Bon Iver is playing in Halifax on the 23 Jan… just in case you want to look into it!
So well said, that was without doubt the greatest gig of my life.
Just as The Wolves was starting I asked my friend if it was too early to call it the best gig of 2009, by the end of that song I was proclaiming it the best gig of my lifetime.
The album alone is beautiful, but in person he brings so so much more to his music, the tom you mentioned in Skinny Love is the best example of this.
Bon can’t come back soon enough!
re: “Bon can’t come back soon enough!”, couldn’t agree more! I think we should think about getting a petition together already… do you think 2 days after the gig is being patient enough? ;)
Hey Burgo, you must have been standing right near me, i had the same view. I couldn’t agree more with the comments on this page IT IS the best gig I have been too ever, and I am glad you have shared your vision and words for the world to see!
I was sitting right up against the rail, right at the point where it curves inwards… had a great view most of the time! Thanks so much for the kind words. Really great to see all the feedback on this page, shows how amazing the night was and how it touched the people that were there :)
I logged in tonight to see how Justin did at Tivoli. I am so pleased that people were able to see and feel the talent that he brings. Thank you for putting it into words.
— friend from the north woods of Wisconsin
As you can see, Justin and Co. definitely had a huge impression on all of us… hopefully – and I think he did get a sense of this – hopefully he realised just how amazed and into it the crowd was. It really was touching stuff. Thanks for stopping by with the comment, it’s appreciated!
Hey Burgo, as soon as the lights came up I was wishing I had the cash to get on a plane and head south to see more of his shows…. Next time round I think I will follow the tour round the country.
Just picked up my vinyl copy of the EP, very much looking forward to getting home and giving that a thorough working over.
Heh… I’ve been spinning that EP non-stop. Although I’ve been doing the online stream thing, I haven’t picked it up on vinyl yet… good call!
Just consider me your personal tutor ;)
Thanks for the kind words Rach, glad you enjoyed it :)
Damn you… for making me Google “visceral”
Burgo <> obviously I wasn’t there. BUT…your post took me pretty close. And for that, I am grateful! That kind of live experience really is rare…I’m so glad you got it. Been listening to Bon all day, and the love grows deeper man :) Take care
i thought the fleet foxes at the tivoli were a great night, until i went to bon iver… wow… i agree with the previous post re best gig of 09, (and very close to best ever)…
great review man, you gave me goose bumps as i remembered the night through your words… and your videos… thankyou…
I actually missed the Fleet Foxes gig… still kicking myself for that one!
Thanks for stopping by, glad the review gave something of the night back to you :)
Always grab the vinyl first now! They pack them with a download code for the MP3’s so you get the best of both worlds!
PS Check your facebook I sent you a message!
Hey Burgo, I’ve heard you mention Bon Iver a few times throughout your posts and after reading this, it was enough to make me get a copy of ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ and the ‘Blood Bank’ EP.
That was a couple of days ago and the albums have been in constant rotation since then.
My ears are can’t thank you enough for introducing them to yet another great artist :)
Great to see you commenting around these parts mate! No need to thank me, just glad I could do my part in spreading the word :)
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oh my lord.
that blog was incredible.
you’ve successfully managed to capture the feeling that i honestly don’t think i can describe, but that filled me when i watched the concert.
but ohh it was more than just ‘watching’.
i felt like i was in it (and i thought ‘wolves’ added nicely to the feeling), and you’re right in saying that the audience was amazing.
i was blown away by the energy!
personally, i think it was THE best concert i have ever seen.
no hyperbole :)
but anyway, i’m basically here to say that i’m hugely impressed by this blog, and i’ll continue to revisit it and relive the pure magic that is bon iver over and OVER again.
Thanks so much for stopping by! I’m glad you enjoyed the post… it’s comments like yours that keep me writing this thing, so thank you so much for keeping that alive in me :)