A Facebook friend pointed out the irony of seeing a band called Bon Iver – which loosely means "Good Winter" in French – after a blistering hot week of almost-100-degree temperatures. Indeed, ironic, but also, extremely refreshing.
And the refreshing aspect came not just in name, but in performance.
Bon Iver, featuring Wisconsin native Justin Vernon, was a completely different band this time. I have seen Vernon three times, and tonight, along with his nine-piece band, they were heavier and more confident. The meek Vernon who apologized during the October of 2009 Riverside show for not having enough material was non-existent, as was the Vernon who fronted Volcano Choir – his side project with Milwaukee's Collections of Colonies of Bees – this past March and slinked off the stage after a mere five songs.
Instead, tonight, we were rewarded with a new Vernon, a new Bon Iver, that might not have completely found their niche, but is definitely having a good time experimenting.
It began with Tom Gartner, Assistant City Attorney, hand delivering a proclamation on stage to Vernon – declaring July 22 as Bon Iver Day in Milwaukee. Gartner is Vernon's godfather. This act incited the first of multiple standing ovations for Vernon.
Tonight's show was overflowing with Wisconsin pride and multiple standing ovations. Perhaps this is what Danny Gokey fans recently experienced – I cannot confirm because I did not attend his shows – but tonight's Bon Iver love fest reminded me of the pride felt during the Violent Femmes' shows in the late '80s and early '90s at The Oriental, when they were an anthemic party band with MTV presence.
Bon Iver is touring in support of his latest self-titled album, and tonight kicked off the tour. The 10-song album was recorded in Vernon's studio in Fall Creek, Wis. The studio is a remodeled veterinarian clinic that he bought in 2008 with his brother.
A second concert will take place tomorrow night at 8 p.m. and both concerts are sold out.
During tonight's show, Bon Iver played "Flume" from "For Emma, Forever Ago," along with "Blood Bank" from the EP of the same name, "Brackett, Wisconsin" (not on an album), "Re: Stacks," "Perth" (from his new self titled album) and "Minnesota, Wisconsin," also from the new album. (T-shirts available at the merch table for $25 featured a merging of the state of Minnesota and Wisconsin with a "Bon Iver" flag rising above the two conjoined states.)
To decipher the individual songs was a task for me. I find all of Bon Iver's music to be a part of a large soundscape, one that serves as the perfect soundtrack in the background of work and play.
The band featured eight musicians aside from Vernon and included a horn section with a French horn player, trumpeter and bass saxophone player. Interestingly, he did not have a single female in the group. (Oh, Justin, is it coincidence, or did she hurt you deeply, forever ago?)
I found it notable the number of males that yelled out "I love you" during the show. (Or was it just one male fan yelling it out repeatedly?)
Encores included "Skinny Love," which seems trite and obvious for an encore, considering the mainstream popularity of the song, but the band delivered it in a fresh way with eight of the nine musicians sans instruments (Vernon had his guitar) gathering around mics and singing their hearts out. They also played the Björk song, "Who Is It (Carry My Joy On The Left, Carry My Pain On the Right)" from the album Medulla, and finished with an emotional audience sing-a-long of "The Wolves (Act I and II)."
It seems Bon Iver is trying a new approach to concert giving, with more stage lights and a bigger sound. It definitely worked, but whether or not Vernon will return to his stripped-down sound which brought him fame in the first place is yet to be determined. Hopefully, the future will be a mix of both.
"Words cannot express how excited and thankful we are," Vernon said early on, and that sentiment resounded throughout the two-hour performance.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.