|It took me awhile to write this piece because I really wanted to digest the emotional power of the performance. Sometimes I crank out pieces but other times I think it is really important to sit with an experience and mull it over, like a wine tasting, before rattling off all your first impressions (since this was at Ommegang, I should have said beer). But yeah, you could miss crucial points that are truths best revealed through somber contemplation. Sure, it’s only rock n’ roll (and I like it) but Bon Iver are a pretty cerebral, albeit fun, band. The rapid-fire internet/media culture will have to forgive me or kiss my ass for not having a 24-hour turnaround on this piece and making the whole article a few fluffy microblog sentences.
I have been reading (and enjoying immensely) The Deerslayer by James Fenimore Cooper. I didn’t know that Cooperstown was named for his father, a prominent judge. In the book there is a great scene where Deerslayer (the early name of the Hawkeye character that Daniel Day-Lewis played in the 1992 great film adaptation of the more well known book The Last Of The Mohicans) is talking to hardened frontiersman Hurry Harry about Otsego Lake (Glimmerglass). Deerslayer is pleased because the lake has yet to accurately appear on any map and thus the natural beauty remained relatively untouched by human influence.
A wonderful thing about the Cooperstown vicinity, nestled on one end of the lake, is that all the way in 2012, the region still is not overly developed or congested. Even with such a huge tourist attraction as the Baseball Hall of Fame, the region remains beautiful, scenic, clutter free and devoid of many eyesores such as strip malls and fast food chains (like so many other formerly lovely parts of America). The Ommegang Brewery, a short drive from Cooperstown proper, is nestled in some gorgeous hills and stunning farmland. In short, it is an ideal setting to hear a band like Bon Iver who gained fame for such intimate music on a debut record that was initially written in a cabin in the woods. I knew that Bon Iver’s sound would enchant the heart and soar up into the clear air of this setting. It was funny that their actual stage show on this tour was so much bolder, with the stage full of players casting a huge net of sounds in their adaptations of the recorded material.
The beauty of the setting was not lost on folksy opener Anais Mitchell. She was friendly and seemed to be enjoying herself, but was perhaps a bit socially awkward when she described the place as “weird”. Some people in the crowd started calling out that the place wasn’t weird and that it was perfect, which it kind of is. You can’t blame Mitchell for having a bit of displacement. They’d be at a place like Radio City just after this beautiful farmland with such a completely different vibe.
Mitchell’s set was very self-assured, which you should probably expect from someone who apparently recorded their debut album in a single day. I love the feel of some of the stuff on her latest Young Man In America record and it will be fun to see her grow as an artist. She has several cool releases and is super tight with Justin Vernon, who has collaborated with her and covered her music before.
Bon Iver were much more “showy”, hitting the stage with enthusiasm and majesty like they were playing Live-Aid or something. Loved the horn section parts of the set as well. It was amazing to hear the big band impact of some songs that I was accustomed to hearing as more frail and introspective, but it really worked. This could inspire arenas, for sure. I always loved how Green Day talk about writing everything generally on acoustic guitars first because that’s how you know you have a song that can live well in various guises. I suppose the same principle could apply here.
Justin and his band had a certain nobility in bearing on stage, awash in light and kinetic energy. It was very commanding yet welcoming, a thrilling example of performers at the top of their game, grateful for their success and inclusive of their audience while still evolving. “Holocene” remains my favorite song of theirs, so easy to lose yourself in. “Creature Fear” was a hit with the crowd, people just so dialed in to what the band were doing. Justin at one point said that they had had the best day, and it was easy to feel the good vibes all around even if there hadn’t been such good beer flowing.
I was frankly blown away at the awesome performance and hope to see them again in the future.