The Big Chill

A feast of heartbreak and isolated introspection
By RICHARD BECK  |  December 19, 2008

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Every music has its season, and who can imagine Bon Iver on tour in the summertime? Justin Vernon's songs, fed on heartbreak and isolated introspection, would just make all the team sports and giddy sex look vulgar. But on a cold Sunday night, with the clear moon beaming down and holiday lights iridescing on the Common, he made a lot of sense. And after all, his band's name is taken from the French bon hiver — "good winter."

Slideshow: Bon Iver and The Tallest Man on Earth

The crowd coming in from the cold was young, excited, and wrapped in flannel — as though the Wilbur Theatre had been given over to a village of wimpy lumberjacks. Vernon, who took the stage as part of a five-piece band, has been caught up in a lot of this year's Pitchfork-centered scensterism, but he's much better than that, as his set proved. He's tall, well-spoken, and unpretentious — this last unexpected, given the music — and the voice that spills out of him is unbelievable. He loves to play around with the spot where his voice breaks, and when he hits it just right, his falsetto can make your heart feel guilty for beating. His gentle, electric rendition of "Re: Stacks" did just that. Only the security guards, passing quietly through the aisles like bowling balls, dared to move.

The band who joined the former solo folkie played brilliantly, and they helped bring out the moody, occasionally sadistic bitterness that runs through a lot of his music. "Skinny Love" is one of the best songs I've heard in a while, but I can't understand why people find it so comforting. Two drummers, breaking up the vocal reverie with big, dull thuds, helped to darken the mood.

The five-piece set-up seems to be here to stay, which is a good thing. Bon Iver ended the evening with "Blood Bank," the brooding title track from their new EP, and its low gothic roll was a good reminder of why they're so much better than their indie peers. Fleet Foxes make pretty songs, but that's it — they're harmless historians. Bon Iver have teeth and demons.

  Topics: Live Reviews , Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes, Wilbur Theatre,  More more >
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