By Noelia Veras
The room was slightly dim with an ethereal and euphoric atmosphere when Bon Iver performed a sold-out show at The Anthem in Washington, D.C. on both October 17 and 18. Both nights the venue was completely filled, with a shocking amount of people on the lower level and the balconies lining the surrounding walls. Even with such a packed audience, there were moments of complete stillness where everyone simply watched in awe as Bon Iver performed.
Bon Iver is the kind of band that is virtually impossible to find in the 21st century due to the inspiring amount of talent each member encompasses and their vast discography. The lead vocalist, Justin Vernon, is highly respected and admired by many artists in the music industry. For example, he regularly worked with Kanye West and collaborated in multiple songs with him, like “Lost In The World” and “Monster.”
Opening for Bon Iver was Feist, which certainly warmed up the crowd for the headliner. Feist is a solo artist from Canada who came out accompanied by instrumentalists. She has received four Grammy nominations and is critically acclaimed for her impressive vocals.
Later in the night, when the band members of Bon Iver performed, they all utilized multiple instruments, as Justin Vernon used sophisticated technology and several guitars. The entire tour was meant to deliver a full musical and visual experience to the audience by playing over 20 songs with immersive three-dimensional sound design and providing a light show which utilized mirror and motion-tracking technology.
The first song of the night was ¡Yi!, the opening track of Bon Iver’s latest album i,i. The track is 32 seconds long and contains a cacophony of noises, raising the anticipation of not just the new album, but the concert that was about to commence. The band played a mix of songs from all of the released Bon Iver albums and even played a song that is not available on streaming services called “Heavenly Father”.
The majority of the songs performed were from the most recent album, but, surprisingly, the band performed Lump Sum and Skinny Love from its first album For Emma, Forever Ago. The album, released in 2008, was recorded by Justin Vernon during a time of isolation in a cabin in Wisconsin.
For Emma, Forever Ago evokes a sense of loneliness and encapsulates the wintertime. The follow-up album, self-titled Bon Iver, embodies the spring while the third album, 22, A Million, is a portrayal of the summertime. The fourth and most recent album, i,i, is meant to finish up the cycle of seasons by presenting the fall. The band officially released this concept, after many theories from fans, in a teaser for their i,i album and tour called “Sincerity is Forever in Season.”
Bon Iver is a meticulous band. Practically every lyric and infinitesimal noise is handcrafted to perfection or purposeful imperfection. The band was intentional in everything it has done, even with the seemingly insignificant album release dates. For instance, in preparation for the release of i,i, Bon Iver held free listening parties to preview the album on August 7 in over 60 locations around the world. The next day at 6 a.m. eastern standard time, the band released one song every hour until 11 a.m. Thus, the album was released 22 days before it was stated to be released.
The concert was almost like a revelation as to how each little noise in every song was created. Vernon not only sang, but played multiple instruments and a sophisticated keyboard with a pedal that produced certain noises in the background of the songs. The other band members sang backup vocals along with playing their particular instruments.
Interestingly, the only performance Vernon played by himself was the encore when he sang “Skinny Love.” This song is perhaps one of the band’s most famous songs from its very first album. The performance was unbearably rare and diverged slightly from the original with newly sprinkled in vocal intonations and novel passion-driven chords on the guitar. The performance was definitely one of the most emotional of the night and had people from the very front row belting as well as those in the very back. Another particularly special performance was “Blood Bank,” which is another well-known song and was performed in a special manner.
“My favorite song was most definitely ‘Blood Bank’ because he reharmonized the whole song,” said junior mechanical engineering major Brett Para, who attended on the 18th. “It was a totally different twist that you probably couldn’t experience from the studio version.”
Overall, the concert was packed with many beautiful and one of a kind elements. From the elaborate lights to the impressive sound design, the experience was full and exciting. Bon Iver was breath-taking, and Justin Vernon was inspiring. Ultimately, the concert was so extremely unique that it is hard to imagine that anyone in the audience could ever forget the almost ineffable experience.