Bon Iver, w/ The Bowerbirds and Nick Schillace
Friday, August 1, 2008 @ The Black Cat $13
I was surprised to see Friday night's Bon Iver show at the Black Cat sell out so quickly. This Justin-Vernon-project has only the one release and it's mid-summer in DC when I thought half the city had escaped to the beaches of Delaware.
So here's my thinking on this.
- First, I have to concede that I am not in tune with the indie-folk bearded culture. I had equated the laid-back nature of this demographic with a tendency toward laziness. I should have known better after witnessing the rise of Fleet Foxes from the Backstage to a sold out Mainstage at the Black Cat last month.
- Then there's the x-chromosome factor. Unlike most of Rock Clubs shows, this was not your typical indie rock sausage fest, and no doubt the women of the District were on the ball and made sure they were well position for a night of upright spooning.
- Factor in the lack of anything else worth seeing this weekend, and we're just about there.
- Lastly, the line up itself made for a compelling night out. Jumbo Slice likes to raise this issue as he compares the shows he attends in Austin to the ones we see here in DC. It probably didn't hurt that anyone interested in seeing any one of the bands on the bill for Friday night would likely be drawn to the other acts as well.
Opening act Nick Schillace was a good start to the night. The Michigan musician couldn't demand your attention in such a big space. But he and his band mate set a good mood with their acoustic instrumentals. A quick aside - sacklunch and I share a fondness for Takoma Park guitar "legend" John Fahey. As it turns out, Nick Schillace is just a tad more into him than either of us, having written his thesis on the artist.
I was actually most interested in seeing the second act, Bowerbirds, out of the three. I caught the Bowerbirds perform as the opening act for the Rosebuds at the RnR Hotel in May of 2007.
This time around, the Bowerbirds faced a larger (and typically chatty) DC crowd, eventually asking folks to shut up. I can't really blame them for asking. But when you ask for 4 and a half minutes of silence for your next song, it actually seems like a lot to ask. Next time, just lie, and tell us it's 2 minutes. Like the homeless guy that asks for a quarter. We all know he's really asking for a dollar. Anyhow, I enjoyed this band yet again, and despite some occasional (and sharp) feedback, and a few broken harmonies, this trio kept the vibe going with songs evoking oceans, and forests, and god knows what else. Their lyrics started reminding me of The Moody Blues - not creepy and sci-fi-like - just a bit ethereal .
Here's a taste:
Personally, I am no Bon Iver superfan. I don't yet have the debut album, For Emma, Forever Ago. And from the tracks that I had heard, I was anticipating another sleepy, give me something to lean on - my back hurts type of show. And that's kinda how the night began.
It was slow moving at first, but mid way through, with the addition of layers of distortion and greater volume, the folk gave way to the rock, and Bon Iver had my attention. Of course, the masses of date rockers got to squeeze their honey extra tight when Skinny Love finally flooded the room. The place was chock full of couples in position for a tandem jump.
I don't know which song it was, but at one point I thought Vernon's voice started to sound like Jackson Brown's in The Load-Out. Neither a criticism nor a compliment. I think Rock Club, as a whole, was pleasantly surprised by this performance. We've seen lots of folky beard bands lately it seems. Is that what happens when we're at war too long? Or when the economy tanks? Folk music tries to bring us back down to earth... Whatever it is, this show had a good flow from start to finish and made for an excellent Friday night out.
Others have posted about the interesting tactics some folks went to in order to see this concert. We saw two listings for tickets in exchange for a date to the show. And one craigslist posting asked for an essay submission, 200 words or so on "what moved you most about For Emma, Forever Ago," basically asking someone to prove his/her worthiness in exchange for a ticket.
This essay contest is an ingenious instrument actually. Let's say you have a project for work coming due. Just promise a ticket for the sold out show du jour in exchange for a briefing on the current state of forward vertical foreign direct investments in China. You don't even need to have a ticket to extort these things. You just collect all the entries and pretend someone else was the winner.
I've learned a lot from this Bon Iver show.