In a musical era where artists all start to sound the same, Bon Iver shatters the mold, breaks new ground, and trailblazes their own way into uncharted territory.
I could live a thousand years and perhaps never experience anything like the Bon Iver Austin City Limits taping.
Let me set the scene for you. As I walked into the venue, the buzz of excitement was subdued, yet authentic – sort of like Bon Iver’s music. It was almost as if the vibe of Bon Iver’s style had been transferred onto the audience.
The audience mingled for about an hour or so in multiple comfortable lobbies, which featured well-stocked bars and comfortable couches. Along the walls were museum-like displays from various artists, containing artifacts and nostalgic pieces of musical legends who had played at Austin City Limits.
How can I even begin to describe the Bon Iver taping itself? When I walked into the Moody Theatre and looked around the actual venue, the famous Austin skyline backdrop was the first thing that grabbed my attention. The Moody is an intimate 2,700 seat capacity venue, boasting a state-of-the-art production facility.
On the Austin City Limits stage itself, Bon Iver had staged a plethora of instruments, spread out over two vertical levels. Multiple guitars, various horns, keyboards, xylophones, two drum sets and more. Somewhere between 6-8 cameras positioned themselves for their opening shots, as roadies came out and tested the instruments and microphones. A quick introduction to Bon Iver followed, along with thanks to Austin City Limits sponsors.
Bon Iver Takes the Austin City Limits Stage
Suddenly the crowd erupted as Bon Iver took the stage.
It was obvious that front man Justin Vernon was humbled by the wild reception. He smiled as the band got into position, waited for the applause to fade a bit, and went right into the opening song.
For those not familiar with Bon Iver, they won two Grammy Awards in 2012, one for Best New Artist and the other for Best Alternative Music Album.
To my knowledge, there isn’t a specific number of group members. Justin Vernon is the founder, and along with him are Sean Carey, Michael Noyce and Matthew McCaughan. Throughout their brief history, Bon Iver has featured several other incredibly talented artists under the Bon Iver banner, and this night was no different. Justin Vernon has been quoted as saying that though Bon Iver is often equated with just him, “you are who surrounds you.”
Words Fail to Describe the Style of Bon Iver
On this night at ACL, there were nine members in Bon Iver. Their music can only be described as a pleasant barrage to the senses that puts the listener into a mesmerizing hypnotic reverie. Justin’s falsetto vocals and layered instrumentation were standards in most of their songs. I remember watching and being overwhelmed with how many different injections of instruments and harmonies were taking place at once.
My eyes were constantly shifting as various members switched out instruments during the middle of a song, while the other members carried the song. This was a special thing to witness, as it can’t be heard, but only seen when it happens. Bon Iver played this sort of musical chairs all night long. There wasn’t a single one of the nine members that played just one instrument.
As a whole, the set was phenomenal. Like any other group, there were songs that weren’t my favorites, and others that took hold of me. The songs that stood out were those where Bon Iver used all nine members of the band to pump out vocals in unison. These were few and far between, but in the midst of the myriad of instruments, the nine-person vocals were like shots to the arm that rattled me out of the reverie that Bon Iver had led me into.
Toward the middle of their set, Justin paused and pointed at the camera that was pointed at him. He then shared what was obviously a heartfelt moment for him. His voice broke with emotion as he communicated that he was humbled to be on “this” side of the camera. He said that for many years he had been watching Austin City Limits at home and couldn’t believe that he was actually on the other end of the camera. He simply said, “Wow, thank you. It is an honor.”
KLRU Inspires Austin for Over 50 Years
It goes both ways, Justin. It was an honor to have y’all here in Austin. Thank you and Bon Iver for your trailblazing contribution to the music world.
Though Austin City Limits has been taping for 38 years, for Bon Iver it was their first taping. Looking back, I’m sure it is an experience that Austin City Limits will treasure and something Bon Iver will never forget.
Slider photo via Flickr CC, courtesy of NRK P3.