The Big Chill

A feast of heartbreak and isolated introspection
By RICHARD BECK  |  December 19, 2008


Every music has its season, and who can imagine Bon Iver on tour in the summertime? Justin Vernon's songs, fed on heartbreak and isolated introspection, would just make all the team sports and giddy sex look vulgar. But on a cold Sunday night, with the clear moon beaming down and holiday lights iridescing on the Common, he made a lot of sense. And after all, his band's name is taken from the French bon hiver — "good winter."

Slideshow: Bon Iver and The Tallest Man on Earth

The crowd coming in from the cold was young, excited, and wrapped in flannel — as though the Wilbur Theatre had been given over to a village of wimpy lumberjacks. Vernon, who took the stage as part of a five-piece band, has been caught up in a lot of this year's Pitchfork-centered scensterism, but he's much better than that, as his set proved. He's tall, well-spoken, and unpretentious — this last unexpected, given the music — and the voice that spills out of him is unbelievable. He loves to play around with the spot where his voice breaks, and when he hits it just right, his falsetto can make your heart feel guilty for beating. His gentle, electric rendition of "Re: Stacks" did just that. Only the security guards, passing quietly through the aisles like bowling balls, dared to move.

The band who joined the former solo folkie played brilliantly, and they helped bring out the moody, occasionally sadistic bitterness that runs through a lot of his music. "Skinny Love" is one of the best songs I've heard in a while, but I can't understand why people find it so comforting. Two drummers, breaking up the vocal reverie with big, dull thuds, helped to darken the mood.

The five-piece set-up seems to be here to stay, which is a good thing. Bon Iver ended the evening with "Blood Bank," the brooding title track from their new EP, and its low gothic roll was a good reminder of why they're so much better than their indie peers. Fleet Foxes make pretty songs, but that's it — they're harmless historians. Bon Iver have teeth and demons.

Related: Photos: Bonnaroo 2009, Slideshow: Bon Iver, Review: Magnetic Fields at the Wilbur Theatre, More more >
  Topics: Live Reviews , Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes, Wilbur Theatre,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   PLUCK AND DETERMINATION  |  March 09, 2010
    People have always thought that Joanna Newsom was indulgent. At first, it was about her voice — the kind of nasal yelp that usually keeps a performer from getting on stage at all. Then, on her second album, it was about her vocabulary and her instrumentation.
  •   SONG OF HERSELF  |  August 05, 2009
    "Listen, I will go on record saying I love Feist, I love Neko Case. I love that music. But that shit's easy listening for the twentysomethings. It fucking is. It's not hard to listen to any of that stuff."
  •   DJ QUIK AND KURUPT | BLAQKOUT  |  June 15, 2009
    LA hip-hop has two threads, and DJ Quik pulls both of them. The first is g-funk, a production style that relies on deep, open grooves and an endless parade of funk samples.
  •   FLIPPER | LOVE  |  May 26, 2009
    Flipper formed in San Francisco in 1979, and they're remembered three decades later because of a song called "Sex Bomb" that's one of the funniest pieces of music I've ever heard.
    There were not one but two clarinets on stage at the Somerville Theatre on Tuesday night, and that gives you some idea of how intricate Annie Clark's chamber-pop compositions can be.

 See all articles by: RICHARD BECK