Show Review + Photos: BON IVER in Atlanta, 06/08/12

It seems like it was yesterday when Justin Vernon was gracing the living rooms of homes around the country in promotion of his debut studio album, For Emma, Forever Ago. What’s amazing is it sort of was yesterday. It was July of 2007, to be exact. What almost feels like an overnight adventure, Vernon and his band, Bon Iver, was catapulted from being merely an indie success to being asked to write a “thank-you speech” at the 2012 Grammys for winning Best New Artist and Best Alternative Music Album after the release of his critically acclaimed, self-titled 2011 record, Bon Iver. I have a simple philosophy with stories like these– if you’re good, this will happen to you. If you’re “Bon Iver good,” being launched into full-fledged stardom, is borderline expected. There’s no lucky breaks with this fella. He’s just got it.

Being an avid fan of the band, I was fairly familiar with what the band would likely bring to the table for their show at the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater in Alpharetta, GA this past Friday, June 8th. Thanks to YouTube, I immersed myself in clips of Bon Iver’s shows since he embarked on his Spring tour back in April. So nothing really caught me off guard, but I do vividly remember feeling the hairs stand erect on my arms after his performance of his popular tune “Creature Fear” off of For Emma. Sitting under the night sky experiencing the combination of Bon Iver being, well, Bon Iver and the genius of Colin Stetson (Arcade Fire, Bell Orchestre, and Bon Iver) wearing his saxophone out in his typical off-kilter fashion nearly wrecked me. No kidding. Admittedly, I may be a bit of a headcase during a moment of such musical ecstasy, but just being real with you, I nearly cried.

Bon Iver’s set design couldn’t have been any more exemplary of his work– very organic and beautiful. There were what appeared to be jagged, triangular-shaped pieces of mossy canvas material hanging on the overhead rafters above the stage with images of trees, clouds, and other effects being projected off of the draped canvas. The design wasn’t as intricate as maybe a Radiohead or Coldplay set, but it was very fitting for the band. When I walked out to my seats in the orchestral section of the amphitheater, I immediately took notice of the design and remember feeling as if I was walking out in the woods behind Bon Iver’s Wisconsin cabin. Okay, that’s a bit much, but you get my drift. The design was what you would probably expect at a Bon Iver show.

I’ve been to quite a few shows in my life- some dreadful, some mind-blowing, and some just okay. The show last night took the cake on them all. After primarily playing songs of the latest release, with the exception of maybe 2 or 3, the band finished the set with a heavily auto-tuned version of “Beth/Rest,” which was incredibly appropriate, by the way. As the band lined up and bowed in a single motion and waved goodbye, of course everyone knew what was coming in the next 10 or so minutes. As the lights went out and cell phones flew up in the air, out came the silhouettes of Vernon’s techs scampering around on the stage in hurried fashion getting the mics and chairs brought up to the front of the stage for an encore performance of “Skinny Love” and “For Emma.” Sometimes when you’re at a show where literally every song is forcing you to pull your phone out of your pocket to record just so you won’t forget “the moment,” it’s quite understandable if one gets lost in the moment. When the crowd well into the thousands, in unison, sang along to the lines “I told you to be patient / I told you to be fine / I told you to be balanced / I told you to be kind,” in a cappella with only the beat of the double-drum duo of Sean Carey and Matthew McCaughan, I remembered why I’ve spent the past 2 months immersing myself in Bon Iver YouTube clips in child-like anticipation for what was, in my experience, the best show I’ve been to in my life.

Set List

  • Perth
  • Minnesota, WI
  • Brackett, WI
  • Flume
  • Holocene
  • The Stars in His Head
  • (Colin Stetson sax solo)
  • Blood Bank
  • Hinnom, TX
  • Wash
  • Creature Fear
  • re: Stacks
  • Tower
  • Calgary
  • Beth/Rest
  • Skinny Love (encore)
  • For Emma (encore)