Sunday night was a night I had been counting down to for months. It was the Bon Iver concert at the bowl. Ethan and I had gotten tickets ten minutes after the box office opened back in February. We headed into town about two hours before the concert, too excited to wait any longer. When we arrived in the parking lot, Ethan pulled out the two joints he had rolled, wrapped them in a napkin, and elegantly stuck his hand down his pants and taped them to his underwear. We got out of the car and walked at a brisk pace towards the venue before we broke into a half skip, half run. When we finally arrived, we realized we were far too early. We picked up our tickets at will call and realized that we weren’t actually standing in the pit, they had set up seats instead. We found our seat and checked out the stage before we wandered onto the plaza to browse the food selection. I found some kettle corn to snack on and we headed back to our seats.
The opening band, All Tiny Creatures began to play right on schedule. They played a short set and entertained as people filtered into the arena. When they finished playing, they broke down their gear faster than I’ve ever seen it done. The gear for Bon Iver began to get brought out — including a multitude of standing blue lights. They uncovered the two drum sets and began tuning the seemingly countless guitars. After a few lighting changes, the starting of the fog machine, and much anticipation, Bon Iver walked onto stage.
The crowd went wild as a yellow-beanied Justin Vernon took his place center stage. The rest of the band found their way to their respective instruments and they began to play. They opened with “Perth”, the first song off of Bon Iver’s newest and self-titled album. The wall of sound emanating from the stage penetrated our ears with such depth and momentum that I thought the breath may have been knocked out of me. I could barely believe that what I was hearing was live. The lights strobed with the beat of the powerful tandem drummers. They continued down their set list with the next song off of the album, “Minnesota, WI”. Vernon showed off his range as he hit the lowest of notes and then sang in his famous high falsetto. They continued down the album with “Holocene” and “Towers”, both sounding even better than the album. They were filled with dimension and dynamic detailed sound that was incredible to see put together piece by piece on stage. Then he changed it up and played “Beach Baby” off of Blood Bank. I couldn’t help but smile as Justin sang “once upon a time put a tongue in your ear on the beach”, fondly reminding me of my own beach make out sessions. After a couple more songs off of the new album (“Hinnom, TX” and “Wash.”), I was excited to hear the next few songs from For Emma, Forever Ago. “Creature Fear” was incredible as the chorus hauntingly and powerfully echoed throughout the bowl. “Blood Bank” astounded with a much fuller sound than the album and a stage that was lit with red for the entire length of the song. After that, everyone but Justin left the stage as he sat down for “re: Stacks”. He strummed profoundly as he sang the song about “life being weird”. After the classic “Flume”, he began to play “Skinny Love” and the crowd went wild. Everyone sang along as he played perhaps his most famous song. The rest of the band sang the “My, my, my’s” with conviction in the background, adding to the already amazing song. He played another three songs off of Bon Iver, including “Calgary”, “Lisbon, OH”, and a “Beth/Rest” that was sung stunningly and with more autotune than the album. This ended the set, and the band walked off the stage. The crowd went wild, cheering for an encore, and a couple of minutes later Bon Iver came back out. They then covered the Bjork song, “Who Is It” which was fun and filled with a strong horn section. He concluded with a compelling “For Emma” and left the stage for the last time.
It was such an incredible and moving concert. Both Ethan and I were completely enthralled the entire time. I didn’t want it to ever end. The whole experience pretty much made my life — inspiring as well as depressing and uplifting at the same time.