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by m.m. zonoozy, photo via Instagram scavenging

Enough with the “Who is Bonny Bear?” chatter.

Saturday night at Columbia, Maryland’s Merriweather Post Pavilion proves that Bon Iver, the man, the band, the grizzly, is nothing short of 1,000 times better than Nicki Minaj (Iver’s runner-up for Grammy New Artist of the Year honors). In fact, the show is just that much better than that adorable little girl singing Minaj on Ellen – and that’s my niece. *

Arriving to the Au Bon Pain show, I am a bit surprised to be at a sit-down concert. I am an avid build a fire, sleep in a cabin, and listen to vinyl kind of guy, but the last umpteenth shows I’ve been to have been those, “Look at the stage, I’m at the second pillar to the right under the third row of speakers!” type of gigs. Here, across the subdued Merriweather lawns is a glut of seated couples on picnic blankets. Even for a slow-ride concert, the anticipation seems surprisingly calm. And since I’m awesomely considerate, I switch my flip phone to vibrate eh es ay pee.

Thankfully, it’s not long before a nine-piece Bon Iver ensemble takes the stage to lead right into a handful of songs off their most recent self-titled LP. The band’s sound is impressively true to the album, if not more pronounced. It takes a handful of songs before frontman  Justin Vernon breaks to acknowledge the audience, thank me personally, and introduce crowd-pleaser “Skinny Love” as “a song about heartache about a heartache.”

Finally, the sing-along takes its first stride, albeit slightly muted. And as the crowd cools back down to lukewarm, my friends and I suddenly feel sophisticated lounging on the green without our glowsticks. In the resulting discomfort, we head to concessions to order six glasses of red grapes to try to fit in. But as we tiptoe back to the fairway in our finest flannel, we’re having an impossible time finding an open spot to rest our weary souls. And then it hits me:

Bearded indie music is popular!

The idea of wussy folksy concerts being big enough to sell out places like Merriweather warms my little overly technofied heart. The show is quite clearly all-ages. Even sans Swedes, houses, or mafias, the middle school set still showed up to chill-rage. Now, if going to a concert that 13 year-olds think is swagahommad doesn’t make you feel hip, nothing will. Even more titillating is the spectacular showing of mid-range bros approaching mid-age birthdays. You’d think a mess of missed high-fives and awkward fist-pumps to Bon-Bon’s minimal BPM’s would harsh my mellow, but nope. I couldn’t be happier.

That’s not to say Bon Thugs and Harmony is all sedated and “Holocene.” With over a dozen instruments, including two full drum sets, Vernon and company paddle out throughout the show to ride several rhythmic swells. Most notably, “Creature Fear” is fleshed out to an unrecognizable percussion-heavy tangent emphasized with pulsating strobes (mega props to the light technician). That sort of improvisational drawn-out jazz approach pumped up what was anticipated as a mumbling, swooning ambiance.

With that said, the highlight of Bon-aroo is a goosebump-worthy solo performance by Mr. Iver himself (remember, goosebumps never lie). The most sober moment of an otherwise jammy jaunt is Vernon’s way of saying, “I can do it fast and slow, and I can do both better than Nicki Minaj.”

Bon appetite.

* Full disclosure: I don’t have a niece.

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