I ainʼt living in the dark no more
it’s not a promise, Iʼm just gonna call it
Yeah, I remember hearing about Justin Vernon of Bon Iver for the first time. A friend had emailed me with the subject line, “I told you to be patient.” The message? A link to his MySpace page (of all places). Remember, this was a few years ago, in a world without Spotify or Grooveshark or whatever you do now to go find your music. I clicked, and I listened to songs called “Skinny Love,” “The Wolves (Acts I and II),” and “For Emma.” I read the bio. And up until last night, I thought I knew who Justin Vernon was.
I was wrong.
I don’t know how many times I’ve referred to Bon Iver when what I really meant was Justin Vernon — probably many. It’s difficult to fathom Vernon being part of a band because of what we were told about him from the start — the legend of him writing songs in a cabin in Wisconsin, being sad or depressed, what have you. Well, screw all of that. We weren’t in the cabin with him. We’re just listening to his songs, applying meaning in our own lives.
Bon Iver — and I guess you really had to be at The Pageant last night to fully understand — revealed themselves as a band last night. It was evident from the opening notes of “Perth,” which exploded, and I mean exploded, into a sonic parade of sorts — with Vernon’s crisp and clear voice hitting the air with perfection; I have never, over a hundred or so shows at this venue, heard a singer sound so alive.
Still, this was no solo venture, nor was it a celebration of sad bastard brotherhood. They — dare I say — “rocked” on songs like “Creature Fear” and a chilling version of “Blood Bank” which had Vernon go all Neil Young and Crazy Horse on us for a few minutes.
Think about your favorite Bon Iver song and how it would sound if it was given a spark, a touch of new life. That’s how last night was, even when it was just Vernon all by his lonesome during “Re: Stacks,” which he played solo electrically. For sure, it was a highlight — not just because the audience was actually listening and respectful. It was beautiful because midway through the show we were given what perhaps we thought we were going to see for the full 90 minutes — a soft glimpse into one man’s soul. As it turned out, all we needed was that one song, that one moment, to satisfy our For Emma nostalgia.
The rest was something else, something brave. Perfectly paced, the songs performed flowed together. “Never gonna break, never gonna break,” Vernon sang on “Minnesota, WI.” Lines like these stood out because they seemed heroic, at peace with a past no longer holding anyone hostage.
When it was time for “Beth/Rest,” the show’s first of three encore songs, and perhaps the most divisive tune in Bon Iver’s catalog, it felt like a celebration, not a moment to reflect. Again, I know how that sounds. “Beth/Rest” isn’t an anthem. To some, it’s pure cheese. Hearing the song live, though, is another story. With blue lights swirling around the stage, Bon Iver created yet another masterful live memory, one that is still being replayed in my brain as I type this. Perhaps I just can’t get over how intense and perfect everything sounded, even before “The Wolves” and “Skinny Love” were even played.
When those two were delivered, back-to-back, it was obvious what just went down: a show for the ages by a band who waited for its moment to shine.
Justin Vernon told us to be patient. He wasn’t kidding.