Bon Iver

Paramount Theatre

Monday, Sept. 26

Taste-making music blog Stereogum recently published a list of five "indie types" who would do well on Simon


Bon Iver Approaches Rock Stardom on His Own Terms, Last Night at the Paramount

Bon Iver

Paramount Theatre

Monday, Sept. 26

Taste-making music blog Stereogum recently published a list of five "indie types" who would do well on Simon Cowell's X Factor and five who would crash and burn. The projected failures weren't too surprising (what, you can't imagine Isaac Brock covering "I Heard It Through the Grapevine?"), but it was unexpected to see Justin Vernon top the list of potential success stories.

However, after some thought, it makes a lot of sense. Based on a handful of interviews, the Bon Iver frontman seems unassuming and down-to-earth. But as an artist and performer, Vernon undoubtedly has talent and ambition worthy of a superstar.

Both were on display last night at the Paramount, where he completely owned the venue while simultaneously continuing on the trajectory of his eponymous sophomore album's experimental, cerebral folk-rock rather than the introverted songwriting of his debut, For Emma, Forever Ago. More impressive was the feeling that Vernon could have easily done the same in a venue three times the Paramount's size.

Perhaps most indicative of Bon Iver's growing ambition is his backing band, made up of eight multi-instrumentalists--including two drummers--who play everything from synthesizer to trombone to bass saxophone. This personnel offers Vernon countless sonic possibilities, and he took full advantage on Bon Iver tracks like "Holocene," "Beth/Rest" (live, it sounds even more like a Phil Collins song), and "Minnesota, WI," which were as layered and complex as the album versions.

This also meant that the relatively simple folk structures of earlier Bon Iver material got a makeover. Though Vernon played For Emma standouts like "Re: Stacks" and "Skinny Love" with little or no accompaniment, most older songs were noticeably changed. "Bloodbank" started with about two minutes of sax noodling before becoming a riff-heavy rock song, while "Creature Fear" began with a trombone solo and ended with a noisy, avant-garde coda. The song that gained the most from the new setup might have been encore-closing "The Wolves," whose climactic buildup gained newfound depth from the extra musicians on stage.

The primary take-away from all of this was that Vernon is in the enviable Arcade Fire- or Radiohead-like position of having widespread success while still putting out innovative, challenging rock music. It's a good spot to be in, and it wouldn't come as too much of a surprise if Bon Iver's next Seattle show moves west on Denny Way toward KeyArena.



Minnesota, WI




Creature Fear

Hinnom, TX




Re: Stacks

With God on Our Side (Bob Dylan cover)


Beth / Rest

For Emma


Skinny Love

The Wolves

Personal bias: Vernon's voice is unique in that it actually sounds better live (read: fuller and clearer) than it does on his records. And he has great range: Though he's known for his falsetto, he can actually sing well into the baritone spectrum.

Overheard (during "Beth/Rest"): "This song is the fucking jam." Couldn't agree more.

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