Not one person that flooded the Greek Theatre in Berkeley came to just “hang out” or “meet up with some friends.” Instead what populated the respectable theater was the largest collection of disciplined music fans I’ve seen in a long time. Oh and the bands that played that night were good too. In fact, if you asked me to pick two bands I wanted to see live this year, it would be Other Lives and Bon Iver.
With an ace opening spot, Other Lives easily captured the immense audience with their post-apocalyptic version of folk rock. Other Lives keeps that eerie sound they have been showcasing with their latest album, Tamer Animals and translates that to unsuspecting crowds. Particularly with For 12, the band sounded like what would happen if a folk band was sent to a zero-populated death planet and forced to create an album. Seriously, it sounds like they wrote these songs on an ice planet.
While songs like Tamer Animals and Dark Horse were welcomed with their bleak themes and Clint Mansell-style soundscapes, it was the extended jams from Landforms and Woodwind that caused a deafening roar from the loyal audience. The pleasure of watching Jonathon Mooney switch from piano to violin to guitar was matched by witnessing lead singer/guitarist Jesse Tabish guide the ghostly atmospherics with his drawling voice reverberating the theater. Some songs even took new life with the help of Jenny Hsu’s backing vocals (cello, piano) while the talents of Colby Owens (drums) lifted each song with limitless energy. Other Lives did not just “open” for Bon Iver, the band played as if to say, “Remember us. We’ll be headlining this place this time next year.”
Admittedly, this was the first time I had seen Justin Vernon and crew. I was understandably upset by this because like anybody else, I wanted to see the band in a more intimate environment. Well that’ll never happen so I just embraced the masses and took in the fact that this is as good as it was going to get. What I did not realize is that Bon Iver attracts a special breed of music fan.
I’ll explain: Berkeley’s Greek Theatre holds 8,500 people and that night the venue was sold out completely. Specifically during the song Re: Stacks, where Justin played his guitar, alone, on a stool, to the sold out audience…to dead silence. Granted there was a “Woo!” and applause once or twice, but for the greater majority of the song itself, not a single person said a word. That kind of crowd discipline is alone admirable but the fact that Bon Iver’s music has the ability to do so is equally amazing. Again, 8,500 (give or take a few) respectively listening to one man play the most intimate of songs and making every crowd member feel as if no one else is in the venue besides themselves and the performer. That is fucking magic.
Anyway, surprisingly songs from the Blood Bank EP were thrown into the setlist, (Blood Bank and Beach Baby) sounding fuller and livelier than their recorded counterparts. In addition, Bon Iver received a positive response with songs from 2008’s For Emma, Forever Ago. Flume and Creature Fear were as penetrating and disarming as ever and the night’s classic-heavy encore of Skinny Love and the mammothly epic For Emma was comforting.
But it was the songs from his second album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, that took on new meaning when performed live. You can almost tell that the songs were made to be played in such immense environments. Like Justin knew that he had to make it up for those fans that missed out on the privacy of experiencing For Emma live. Holocene for instance, took on a more Sigur Ros-like astronomical life that caused cheers from the crowd as it got more and more intense. Towers and Calgary sounded organic in their own right without sounding too scripted while the cheesiness of Beth/Rest remained and was applauded.
Overall, the show was something to behold. There aren’t many bands that have the ability to silence a crowd of that magnitude, so experiencing the supernatural power of Bon Iver and Other Lives is something that is not worth missing.