Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bon Iver, Lianne La Havas @ Massey Hall, Toronto (December 6, 2011)

  Bon Iver @ Massey Hall: photo by Michael Ligon

The second show I'd gone to this month was the first show of a two-night stint put on by Bon Iver at Massey Hall on December 6. As it seems with me over the last several years, I've not put too much effort into exploring much new music. I haven't totally ignored new music but rather have been really selective. As a result, I've caught on to some artists a little late. I'd only given Bon Iver's debut album Forever Emma Forever Ago cursory listens in the past and I'd liked what I'd heard but still hadn't been compelled to listen to it too often. I'll admit, my choice to buy a ticket to the Bon Iver show was purely on the current popularity of the group and perhaps I should see what all the fuss is about. I am glad to say that Bon Iver did make an indellible mark on me that night.

Opening the show was a young new UK artist named Lianne La Havas [even spelling out her name in full], a slender, petite young thing wearing dark boots, tights, a white skirt, and a glittery black top, who strolled onto stage to her mic with her guitar. Thanking the crowd profusely throughout the night in her thick British accent, toasting the crowd with tea, and singing songs about love, breakups, and old boyfriends, her jazz-inflected pop songs sounded like a mix between the soulfulness of Adele and the starkness of Tracey Thorn. La Havas displayed a competent grasp of the guitar that complemented her soulful, melodic songs well. I will be a monkey's uncle if she does not hit it bigger in the music scene next year. She's set to release her debut album early next year.

This being the first night of a two night stint, it's easy to overlook that Bon Iver had just played Toronto at the dreaded Sound Academy this past August to promote the self-titled 2nd album which came out this past June. Regardless of how well that show went, I'd imagine that many a Bon Iver fan breathed a sigh of relief when the Massey Hall shows were announced. It was an ecstatic audience response that great Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and his 9-piece band as they strolled on to the stage. What I found apparent of the set overall was, although they've frequently been categorized as indie-folk by the music press, Bon Iver do come across much more musically ambitious. Like Vernon jokingly said on stage, "Stop calling us an acoustic rock band." Added to the usual drums, guitar, bass on stage was other instrumentation like violin, baritone saxophone, and trombone. Bon Iver may start from a basis in folk-rock, Appalachian and American influences, but also showed a willingness towards sonic experimentation which reminded me of Wilco. What was almost more interesting to me was Mr. Vernon's vocal range which could go from a falsetto-toned vocal on one song, then to a bluesy, ragged drawl on the next. The man[ie. Justin Vernon] I'd read about who'd apparently for the first album had sequestered himself in a log cabin in the woods after a broken-up relationship to write the songs for the first album, turned out to be quite chipper during this show, infusing bits of humorous banter between songs throughout the night.

Musically, highlights included the solo-performed, desolate-sounding "re: Stacks", and the group sing-a-long- and hand-clapping on main set closer "Skinny Love". But for me the I just about shed a tear on the encore closer "The Wolves (Act I and II)" on which Mr. Vernon encouraged the audience to sing-a-long repetively with the lyrics "what might have been lost". Such a beautiful conclusion to a wonderful show.

Photos: Bon Iver, Lianne La Havas @ Massey Hall, Toronto (December 6, 2011)

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