Wow. What a year this has been for live music. I’ve seen so many incredible shows throughout DC, Northern VA and Richmond. It’s not going to be an easy task getting this down to five. Just to give you an idea of how great this year was, Mumford & Sons, Fleet Foxes, Iron & Wine, among other great shows, didn’t make the cut. There have been a fair share of “damn, can’t believed I didn’t get tickets” and “shit, I missed them?” moments throughout the year. I only wish I could have seen every concert.
I have never rated anything like this before, so I don’t really know what I’m doing here. Just go with it, I guess. I’m such an amateur that I couldn’t narrow this thing down to my top five. So you get a bonus and we start at…
6. The Black Keys @ Merriweather Post / Free Fest
The Black Keys were the sole reason I trekked to the shitty state of Maryland and the techno vomit that was Free Fest. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of great bands there (Cut Copy, Okkervil River, Two Door Cinema Club) but it seemed like all everybody wanted to see were the “press play-button” artists. I was there for the Keys. And man, did they deliver. It doesn’t matter where you are, the energy oozing from The Black Keys is enough to impregnate all within earshot. Closing with I Got Mine was one of the musical highlights of my life.
5. Foals w/ The Naked And Famous @ 9:30 Club
I’m going to call #5 the upset of the year. I bought the tickets on a whim and went in with zero expectations. The Naked And Famous played the part of primer to perfection. Everyone was juiced, jazzed and ready to go by the time Foals came on. Unfortunately that wasn’t enough because I was very quickly gaping at the spectacle unfolding before me on 9:30 Club’s historic stage. Yannis Philippakis tore the rafters from the ceiling while leading a stage-diving, microphone-coptering, speaker-climbing all out rage. Once I finally got my mouth off the floor, I realized I was right in the middle of one hell of a show.
Well, I can cross that one off of the bucket list. You know it’s going to be a good show when you have goosebumps during the three and half hour drive to the concert. Bon Iver has meant so much to me in the development of my musical sense and passion. Finally seeing them was a dream come true. It was only fitting that I returned to see them in my hometown of Richmond at The National.
Watching Bon Iver take the stage as a nine member band (with some serious horns and two drum sets) was quiet the spectacle. The stage was a modest set with about ten light towers that pulsated and flooded the stage with colors of mostly blue and red throughout the show. Immediately upon Justin Vernon taking the stage, you could feel the power of the performer and the crowd was transformed.
Bon Iver played from their full arsenal of songs while highlighting the new, self-titled album. Classics from For Emma, Forever Ago were augmented by the full band and the horns were a blazing intensity throughout the night. Re: Stacks was delivered with a deeply personal touch. The entire band exited the stage, leaving just Vernon and his acoustic to lay down a heart wrenching performance to the silent crowd. Blood Bank was a great example of the full band completely enhancing an incredible song. They covered Bjork’s Who Is It, which featured Reggie Pace (RVA! RVA!) killing it with his incredible beat boxing and Colin Stetson taking over on horns. New songs Perth and Holocene showed just how far Bon Iver has come as a band.
The close to this concert (the best show I have ever seen) has changed me. It was a surreal moment that brought together so much of what I was feeling musically. First, the main set was capped by For Emma, which left the crowd in a frenzy calling for the encore (it was damn loud!). The encore did not disappoint. The three song culmination was led off with a rowdy, jammed out performance of Beth/Rest (much better than the album version) and finished with a rousing sing-along of Wolves. Skinny Love sat in the middle and was everything I expected from one of my favorite songs of all time; Veron, his acoustic, and stomp clapping – doesn’t get any better than that.
I cannot remember ever seeing a crowd so utterly transfixed in a state of pure bliss. The sold out theater swayed and sang along through every note. Everyone around me was melting underneath Justin’s voice. Even I have to admit to my moments of eyes closed, head back, fully content with life.
Continue reading for the setlist and links to the live performance at the 9:30 club…
So, I am officially obsessed with the new Bon Iver album. It’s streaming in its entirety over at NPR Music: First Listen. Don’t start your weekend without first taking a listen to Vernon’s sophomore album, Bon Iver. It has been an eternity since For Emma, Forever Ago was released late in 2007. When I first heard Skinny Love, I was completely enamored by its subtle ability to stop everything else around me. I have easily listened to that album Flume to re: Stacks over 126 times. Needless to say, it has been a big part in the development of my musical consciousness.
Now, with Bon Iver, I have the ludicrous thought that this new album, three+ years later, has the potential to be even better than For Emma. It is literally that good. Many hours, days, and years will be required to develop the same love for Bon Iver. Time I fully intend on dedicating to this album. Follow the links below to better your day, if not your life.
Stream: Bon Iver @ NPR Music: First Listen
Read: Great article/interview detailing Bon Iver’s journey to this point. Seriously, read this. You’ll thank me later.
Read: Who, What and Where is Bon Iver?
Pre-order: Buy the new album now!