Justin Vernon and Bruce Hornsby of Bon Iver
How does an artist command a room? Sure, he could simply ask his audience for their attention; but true command demands more than that. It requires a certain power to turn your back to the audience, while holding them with nothing but your voice and the melody of a piano. It’s the ability to make your audience see you even when you ask them to close your eyes. On Oct. 17 and 18, Bon Iver commanded the room at the Anthem in D.C., selling out the Thursday show, and packing the venue again the next night. On tour for their fourth album i,i, Bon Iver brought fans into another world through their entrancing melodies, lyrics, and visuals. Led by singer, songwriter, and producer Justin Vernon, Bon Iver’s unique folktronica was especially incredible live, as they paired songs with a stunning light show. Bon Iver walked out to flashing lights and a recording of the opening track of i,i, “Yi.” As the band members took their positions on stage, the scene for the almost two-hour show was set. Bon Iver staged the show as a complete work of art. Instead of focusing solely on his music, the stage transformed into a celestial show of lights. During some songs, the ceiling and stage lights lit up an electrifying blue. In other instances, the room became an ominous red. The detail in the craft of the performance, both sonically and visually, attests to the genius and creativity of Justin Vernon and his team. Their music isn’t just sounds—it's an experience. Looking around The Anthem, one could see a room full of people engulfed by vibrant music and radiant color. Some eyes were closed. Some were teary. Some were both. But everyone was present, entranced by a moment meant to be enjoyed in the fullest way possible. In an impressive move given the elaborate staging of each song, the band performed a different setlist the second night. If you went on October 17, you probably closed your eyes and let the ocean blue light wash over you as they performed their celebrated “Holocene.” Justin also treated his Thursday night audience with Bruce Hornsby —the man who worked on the melody for the sixth track off the new album, “U (Man Like)”— and a soft rendition of Bonnie Raitt’s late 90’s classic, “I Can’t Make You Love Me.” Unlike the previous night, however, the Friday night audience saw what is arguably one of their most popular songs,“Skinny Love,” as well as one of their lesser known songs, “Heavenly Father.” While there were slight variations to each performance, neither audience left feeling shorted of the complete Bon Iver experience. If you were to ask Bon Iver what it takes to command a room, they would likely speak to the importance of the shared human experience. There were multiple times throughout the night where Justin stopped the performance to take a moment and thank the audience for not only supporting him, but for taking the time to share this particular experience with the fellow music lovers in the room. He thanked the various serendipitous circumstances that brought the audience there together. He implored them to help change what they could to defend those who can’t defend themselves. Each song felt almost sacred, as if it would be sacrilegious on the audience’s part to give the band anything but their undivided attention. Although the concert was a promotion of the group’s music, it was also, more importantly, a celebration of the ability to live life surrounded by the beauty in other people. And if everyone left feeling that, there was absolutely reason to feel unsatisfied.
Alexis Gorfine and Kyanah-Isabelle Fabre
Photo Credit: Alexis Gorfine