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all words: Mitchell London
all AMAZING photos: Jeff Martin

Justin Vernon and his band have the most compelling origin story this side of Gotham – the cabin in the woods, the Kanye duets, the side projects and high school band appearances, the AutoTune and 10cc admiration.  It is no wonder that music writers more accomplished than me have put aside his music for the lure of his narrative.  And it is for this reason, perhaps, that I never really got that into Bon Iver.  I thought that the music was nice enough, but it never hooked me with the same religious lure that had snagged so many of my peers.  The story kept getting in the way.
That changed on Monday night.

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Vernon gambled and led his set with the three most supercharged cuts from his recent, megaselling (by indie standards) LP.  His first song, “Perth,” with its abrupt climaxes like wintery California coastal ridges – made full use of the dynamic range.  The horns soared skyward, erumpent blazes of purple glory.  The chorus like a team of neon Greek sirens. His set was every bit as over the top as the past three sentences, but tastefully so. From ten seconds in to the set, his 9 piece band was ablaze:  guitars and horns and bass and two drummers filled every sonic register.  Every nook and cranny of the sound was maxxxed out.

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By the third song, “Calgary,” every member of the band had played a minimum of four distinct instruments.  Drummers playing Wurlitzer, horn players playing glockenspiel and synth at the same time, falsettos shooting off left and right.  Despite the overt display of force, the band sounded exciting in ways that I had never picked up on wax.

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The truest testament to the power of this concert that only once in an hour plus set, with multiple encores, did I find the fact that this indie rock band has four horns players a little silly.  Because on paper, that’s really silly.  And that was three minutes into some protracted jam during the penultimate song, “Michicant.”  The rest of the entire set burned with equal parts passion and technical proficiency – not one missed note, not one dropped beat.

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When the band took a break near the end of the set and left Vernon alone to play “re: Stacks” by himself, the result was a tender, soulful throwback to his days in the cabin, but it was also a stark reminder of how far he and his band had come.  Any schmuck can languidly strum a Les Paul and whimper in falsetto about a woman who done him wrong, but very few bands can deliver the sternum-punch of Bon Iver at its full might.

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Highlights:
* The searing, Sonic Youth guitar solo at the end of “Blood Bank” early in the set.
* Justin Vernon’s dance moves during “Holocene,” which sort of resembled Samford Sr. virulently disagreeing with something.
* The first song of the encore – a cover of “Who Is It?” off of Bjork’s Medulla (my personal favorite jam from 04), with mad falsetto croonin’ and madder beatboxing.
* The audience participation in “Wolves”
* The heartwarming sight of all the band members coming together behind JV to sing “Skinny Love.”

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