Bon Iver at Red Rocks, 5/31/12

Categories: Last Night

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Eric Gruneisen
Bon Iver last night at Red Rocks.


BON IVER @ RED ROCKS AMPHITHEATRE | 5.31.12

Flanked by talented multi-instrumentalists and standing in front of two drummers, both of whom played kits so sprawling they resembled Neil Peart's smaller setups in the '70s, Bon Iver compelled the packed Red Rocks crowd with songs from across its powerful catalog. Bon Iver and Feist are both touring with eight-piece bands, sharing a few horn players, but Justin Vernon's compositions are even more drastically transformed in concert; far from the spare, layered, vocal-driven basement ballads of his recordings, they were suddenly huge swaths of arena-rock dynamics.

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Eric Gruneisen
Bon Iver last night at Red Rocks.

There was a sort of engineered cacophony in Bon Iver's set that brilliantly became elegant as all the instruments blended in and out of each other, intermittently creating walls of sound or cutting out completely in favor of a spotlighted violin solo. Vernon's "wilderness hip" (he's been called indie-rock's hunky Walt Whitman with his Paul Bunyan look and poetic R&B sensibility) suddenly became darkly melodic execution -- swirling Sonic Youth-type fireworks morphing into gentle regaling -- with the help of his large band and an emotive light show one of my showmates dubbed "The Candle Effect."

Under the moon and between Red Rocks' legendary massive red shards of earth, Vernon and his two drummers at times summoned arguably the most meaningful elements of the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead - their explosive, quasi-wicked nods to Miles Davis' first electric bands - in a way that made modern jambands seem feeble; even more so when realizing the controlled big-band mayhem actually had a habit of landing on high-quality songwriting, notably "Skinny Love."

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Eric Gruneisen
Bon Iver last night at Red Rocks.

Like Feist, who shared this bill, Bon Iver has found mainstream success by writing and performing music that admirably seems to have no aim other than self-expression. You wonder exactly when and how Vernon -- who once covered Feist -- came to realize the capabilities of his strikingly versatile voice, which -- to get a little hyperbolic -- is possibly becoming the singular romantic foghorn of a generation, so very deep and very malleable, both in its texture and its message.

While Bon Iver has released three albums, only a few songs, such as "Blood Bank," stand out as memorable in the most literal sense of the word. But, like Radiohead, even when you don't quite understand what Vernon is singing, the feeling is so tangibly translated as to remind listeners what it feels like to be born, or fall in love, or lose a loved one.

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Eric Gruneisen
Bon Iver last night at Red Rocks.

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2 comments
Davidnavetta
Davidnavetta

Bon Iver was transcendent last night. One of the best shows I've ever seen.

avsRback
avsRback

Skinny Love last night was possibly the most thrillingly intense song I've ever heard performed - and I've been seeing shows for 30 years. What a moment.

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