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.