Bon Iver and Bowerbirds
The Music Hall of Williamsburg was at capacity last night, filled with fans eager to sway thoughtfully through this bill of sweet, quiet folk. Amidst hoots of recognition, North Carolina’s Bowerbirds began with Hymns For A Dark Horse opening track “Hooves,” perfectly setting the tone for their lovely set. Phil Moore’s luscious voice floated through the space with a soothing clarity as he gently strummed his guitar, while it took Beth Tacular a few numbers to warm up. She seemed a bit wobbly through “In Our Talons,” but soon enough she was back to form, shining especially on a new song that gave her a whole solo verse. This and a few other newbies, one tentatively titled “Teeth Of Life,” augmented their performance and proved their next album something to anticipate, though in truth I’d melt for Moore’s voice on just about any quality of song.
Shortly after, Justin Vernon as Bon Iver took the stage as a room full of people pelted him with love. He was appropriately sheepish about all the attention, as only this year did his debut For Emma, Forever Ago rocket him to noteworthiness and, apparently, female adoration. From packing Sound Fix in February to selling-out tonight’s full-size venue, Vernon and crew have toured heavily and taken his humble catalog of songs to other levels of rocking. There were plenty of quiet, Vernon-centered moments that showcased his mastery of the high note, but there was also lots of jammy release that surprised all who had thought they wouldn’t need earplugs at a Bon Iver show. A new number called “Blood Bank” was especially rock-songish with Vernon banging away at the keyboard and enlisting the strengths of his full band. Their updated performance style and new material suggest a more thrilling overall experience, though fans initially drawn to their hushed hymns might wish for more of Vernon’s soft side. However, the rockin’ moments seemed quite appropriate since some of the most powerful parts of the album come when Vernon really lets loose, and certainly these did not go unappreciated in a live setting. All present proved their enthusiasm by singing along to “The Wolves Act I And II,” after which Vernon gave dumbfounded thanks to Brooklyn for coming to see his band perform. He’s clearly in the midst of realizing that lots of people really like his music, and that seemingly many more are to follow. After an encore of “Skinny Love,” the crowd was told they had heard all the songs there were to play, making Bon Iver’s big night feel complete.