Concert Review: Bon Iver

Bon Iver's latest self-titled album

By Haley Earl-Lynn

Bon Iver
Spreckels Theater
September 16 & 17, 2011

A quick catch-up for those of you who have been living under a rock of music isolation, Bon Iver is the quickest way to an eargasm. Bon Iver (pronounced Bone-Ee-Vere, not Bawn-Eye-Vur… sounds prettier right?) is an indie band lead by front-man Justin Vernon. Vernon reigns from Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where he lived while working on both his most recent, self-titled album as well as his first album, For Emma, Forever Ago. What?!, you say, a mega-star who hasn’t moved out to Hollywood? (I only say mega-star because that’s what the New York Times called him.) Vernon is proud of his Wisconsin roots, in fact they have inspired much of his work.

Vernon graced San Diego this past weekend with his musical presence. He took over Spreckels Theatre both Friday and Saturday nights and left audience members’ ears feeling truly blessed. Spreckels was the most appropriate venue for Vernon’s show. While he is a stand-up guy, from what I can tell as a fan, his music is more of the sit down type. Bon Iver falls somewhere between Fleet Foxes, Death Cab for Cutie, and Sufjan Steven’s older classics. Vernon’s music is certainly not going to be heard at your favorite night club, nor will it pump you up on a run; but it will go pleasantly with your dinner time conversation.

Bon Iver, Bon Iver, the most recent album, has a similar sound to previous albums and EPs and some critics have complained that Vernon lacks the necessary creativity to withstand a successful career. I, however, feel this is an empty complaint. Bon Iver, Bon Iver certainly sounds similar to For Emma, Forever Ago, but I don’t mind at all. On Saturday night in Spreckel’s, it hit me: Bon Iver, Bon Iver has mature lyrics, much more mature in comparison to For Emma, Forever Ago. Vernon’s girlfriend, Country singer Kathleen Edwards, was even quoted saying, “I mean this respectfully, but most of the time I have no idea what Justin’s songs are about.” (New York Times) Vernon has explained that he has learned to leave his songs ambiguous so they are more relatable to a wider audience.

While this tactic is completely understandable and actually common among seasoned artists, I am not convinced that Vernon’s music has reached the widest audience quite yet. Alicia Massei, a Bon Iver enthusiast and equal opportunity music lover, had a funny take on the crowd at Spreckel’s this weekend: “It was hipster central! Hipsters for miles.” Massei also took in the Ke$ha concert the following night at San Diego State’s open air stadium. It is a confirmed fact that she is the only San Diegan out there who attended both shows, as they fall on opposite sides of the music spectrum. The majority of the Bon Iver audience donned plaid and a hefty five o’clock shadow, while the Ke$ha clan was dipped in glitter.

While Vernon appeals most to the hipster in everyone, his music is worth taking a listen to regardless of the length of your beard or the stench of your flannel. On Saturday night Vernon played the majority of his newest tracks while sprinkling in a few of his tried and true favorites. If you are new to the indie scene, I would suggest trying out “Skinny Love” or “Holocene”, as they are fan favorites. As a long time Bon Iver die hard, I have been waiting eagerly for my chance to catch Vernon live. He certainly did not let me down. Listening to some of my favorite songs live for the first time in Spreckel’s was like witnessing a total solar eclipse for the first time—awesome and rare. Laptop speakers really don’t do any track justice. If I haven’t convinced you that your ears will appreciate Bon Iver, let me leave you with this last remark—Vernon’s travelling band features a dead on doppelganger for Kenan Thompson of Nickelodeon’s 90s sitcom Kenan & Kel.

You can purchase Bon Iver, Bon Iver here.

Haley Earl-Lynn also writes for KPRi’s Community Rockblog.