Jump to Content

Welcome! You’re browsing the No Depression Archives

No Depression has been the foremost journalistic authority on roots music for well over a decade, publishing 75 issues from 1995 to 2008. No Depression ceased publishing magazines in 2008 and took to the web. We have made the contents of those issues accessible online via this extensive archive and also feature a robust community website with blogs, photos, videos, music, news, discussion and more.

Close This

Live Reviews from web archive December 21, 2008

Bon Iver

Barrymore Theater (Madison, WI), December 19, 2008

Fresh from a David Letterman appearance and just hours after Madison’s biggest snowstorm of the season, Bon Iver spread a blanket of flannel mysticism over a sold-out crowd of nearly a thousand at the Barrymore Theater. The boys from the back roads of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, reveled to be on a stage in their home state after months on the road, including eight weeks overseas.

Athens, Minneapolis, Seattle, and now comes…the Eau Claire, Wisconsin, sound. Bon Iver founder Justin Vernon cooked it up in his father’s remote deer hunting shack. For Emma, Forever Ago is the disc that emerged from Vernon’s self-exile into the artistic density of a long Wisconsin winter two years ago. The songs from that album were the muscle of this night’s all-too-brief set of music.

What, you may ask, is the Eau Claire sound? It involves falsetto singing sharpened by extreme three-part harmonies, and a lyrical far-fetched-ness that is as sturdy and grounded as a stack of dry firewood. It also involves beards (not that looks matter), and performing seated rather than standing.

Vernon, co-captain of the 1999 Eau Claire Memorial High School football team, took the stage wearing red flannel and proudly sporting a mop of wild hat hair. Vernon sings like a choirboy who could kick your ass; think Sufjan Stevens on a weightlifting program. He shed the flannel to reveal a navy hooded sweatshirt by the third song, “Skinny Love”, the tune that seemed to freak out Letterman the week before.

Bon Iver performs “Skinny Love” at the Barrymore in Madison.

“Skinny Love” is a gothic campfire lament that features Vernon’s wood chop-strength steel guitar strumming. The song’s intensity is fueled by Vernon’s bandmates, all three of whom played drums on this selection: one with sticks over his snare, the other two pounding mallets prehistorically on individual floor toms, using both the head and rims of their drums to cast emotions into the thrall of Vernon’s vocal pleas.

Vernon’s falsetto is anything but pretentious. On the contrary, it’s as though he found this high voice under a Dunn County fieldstone and took it home to tinker with it. He’s an expressionist, and the tension in his metallic and pure voice comes from a place we’ve forgotten, or try to avoid.

Or haven’t yet experienced. Bon Iver has a sophisticated but young fan base; some in the audience didn’t quite know what to do with the tumult. During the intense “Re: Stacks”, several young women on the floor in front of the stage simply planted their faces into their hands and kept them there until the song ended.

Still, for all the band’s astral trajectories, Bon Iver is rooted deep into northwestern Wisconsin soil. If patchouli is the smell of a Government Mule audience, Skoal is the smell of a Bon Iver crowd.

“I’m told I say ‘thank you’ too much during a show,” Vernon shared halfway through the band’s 90-minute set. “But we are extremely thankful for you guys being here tonight.” Only someone who appreciates his time in the hot but fickle arc of celebrity could make a comment like that and get away with it. Here’s hoping the arc that began in Eau Claire is a long one.

Enjoy the ND archives? Consider making a donation with PayPal or send a check to:
No Depression, 460 Bush St., San Francisco, CA 94108


Did you enjoy this article? Start a discussion about it, or find out what others are saying in the No Depression Community forum.

Join the Discussion »

Find out what's going on in roots music. Share concert photos and videos, learn about new artists, blog about the music you love.

Join the No Depression Community »

Buy our history before it’s gone!

Each issue is artfully designed and packed full of great photos that you don‘t get online. Visit the No Depression store to own a piece of history.

Visit the No Depression Store »

From the Blogs

  • Dylan, "Desire" and the (other) Story of Hurricane: A Lesson In Fatherhood
    Reading of the death of former pro boxer Rubin "Hurricane" Carter today awoke an old memory which reminded me how lucky I was to have, what in retrospect, was a pretty cool father.  I should add by "cool" I do not mean some kind of "over the hill hipster" who, in a desperate attempt at trying to stay relevant smokes pot or acts […]
  • Lachlan Bryan and The Wildes – Black Coffee (Album Review)
    After a successful solo outing, Aussie country singer Lachlan Bryan got his old band back into the studio and came up with this cracker of an album. It was released in the autumn of last year in Australia and subsequently picked up a major award as “Alternative Country” album of the year. Such acclaim means any belated praise from me is superfluous, but I’m […]
  • Album Reviews: Gord Downie & The Sadies, Bruce Springsteen, Lost & Nameless, The Annie Ford Band
    Gord Downie, The Sadies, and the Conquering Sun The lead singer of one of Canada’s most influential rock bands gets together with one of the best live bands ever for a collaborative effort and the expected results could range anywhere from confusion to straight ahead awesomeness. Thankfully (and not surprisingly, given the players involved) the semi-eponymou […]
  • Blackberry Smoke Is the Goddamn Truth
    Southern rock is a stylistic hodgepodge--a musical mutt.  Yet in this gumbo pot of a country, its impurities and cross-breeding make it the most American genre of all. And with the Allman Brothers drawing down, southern rock's current standard bearer is Blackberry Smoke, a lofty perch they hardly jeopardized during a lively set last night at Seattle […]
  • Goldie and the Gingerbreads: The First All-Female Guitar Band
    It could only happen in America: In 1947, a 7-year-old Polish-Jewish girl named Genyusha "Genya" Zelkovicz arrived in New York City's Lower East Side with her parents and a sister, speaking not a word of English. They were the only ones in their family to survive the Holocaust. Genya's mother nicknamed her Goldie, and thus began her Ameri […]
  • Wayne Kramer - Lexington (Album Review)
    Wayne Kramer is someone who's life story I'd very much like to read. From lead guitar in the Mighty MC5 to prison inmate to social activist (he recently interviewed Pussy Riot, and is constantly active in speaking out against such injustices) to new father, Kramer's life has an interesting story in every chapter. His latest record release (and […]

Shop Amazon by clicking through this logo to support NoDepression.com. We get a percentage of every purchase you make!

Subscribe To the No Depression Newsletter

Subscribe to the No Depression Newsletter