We've spent the better part of three years carefully avoiding Bon Iver, not for any particular reason than pure stubbornness. When someone is hanging from every streetlamp in town proclaiming how essential and earth-shattering an artist is, there's a certain pleasure one derives from ignoring them. Besides: you never get let down if you never buy in. But one of the benefits of having a completely unfounded distaste for Bon Iver is that we went to last night's show at the United Palace with open ears, besides a cursory listen of Justin Vernon's first effort, For Emma, Forever Ago and Bon Iver's recently released self-titled LP. What follows is a conversation between a Lover and a Hater.
Bon-Curious: I don't know how that show could have gone any better: every note seemed perfectly crafted, the sound was incredible, and by the end you could literally see the collective heart of the audience melt down into a big pot of happy goo.
Bon Averse: Well the A.C. was broken.
Bon-Curious: What'd you think of Justin Vernon's pipes? He's got such range—that deep growl puts a knot in my throat and his falsetto tickles the back of my neck.
Bon Averse: Sometimes he sounds like the flanneled, bearded version of the Bee Gees.
Bon-Curious: The Bee Gees had beards!
Bon Averse: The Bee Gees made dancing and baby-makin music.
Bon-Curious: So does Bon Iver, in fact I'd say half of the catalogue last night could easily have been used to conceive a child. Some people tried the next best thing: there were more than a few girls that kept screaming "Marry me, Justin!"
Bon Averse: I'll admit some of it has a certain rhythm and intimacy to it yes, but it seemed as if a lot of those songs lacked a clear climax: a few times I was left with blue ears. And the Bee Gees didn't need an eight-piece band to kick ass.
Bon-Curious: Why the hell are we talking about the Bee Gees? You didn't like the band? it really filled out some of the older numbers like "re: Stacks," and "The Wolves." Not to mention it made the newer stuff sound true to and even better than the self-titled album. "Michicant" and "Holocene" in particular.
Bon Averse: OK there were a few wicked sax solos. And the slide on "For Emma" may or may not have given me goosebumps.
Bon-Curious: Exactly! Didn't you see how happy Bon Iver's music made people? How the now-legendary story of Bon Iver's first LP resonates with people so deeply? Justin Vernon lost his girlfriend and his band, and sought solace in the middle of nowhere in Wisconsin to literally spin pain into gold. His second effort is damn near as good as the first. You can't argue with the transcendent joy those people felt last night—there were multiple criers within a ten seat radius!
Bon Averse: "Dude who spent a cold winter in the woods all by himself" now has a shitload of guitars, a light show, and is pals with Kanye West. There's something that makes me uneasy about paying $45 a seat to see something so supposedly earnest. And what is it with "earnest rock." What the hell happened to melting faces, and not hearts? To the visceral reaction to sound instead of having to read 13 interviews about the "process?" There's beauty in simplicity.
Bon-Curious: So music shouldn't be a heartfelt expression of emotions and thoughts that transcend what we're unable to articulate otherwise? We're supposed to just bang our heads and listen to three chords and try not to drink the cigarette we just put out in the last drop of our bottle of Old Grand-Dad?
Bon Averse: Pretty much.
Bon-Curious: Fine. I give up. But did you have fun?
Bon Averse: Absolutely. It was an excellent show. I give it four resounding beard strokes.