We rode our bike to the extremely sold-out Bon Iver show at the Ryman Auditorium on July 27, we were wearing plaid, and we hadn't shaved in a month. In other words, short of living in a cabin and making pals with a friendly grizzly bear (that's what Bon Iver fans do, right?), we could not have been more predisposed to being at least moderately stoked about this show. And guess what! We totally loved it. Shocker.
We immediately recognized Roman Candle member and intermittent Nashvillian Logan Matheny behind the drums as The Rosebuds launched into a set of songs that stylistically spanned just about every moody indie buzz genre of the past 15 years. Sadcore, shoegaze, chillwave, woods folk — you name it, they sounded vaguely like it. Thanks to our recent love affair with Spotify, we already knew that the duo of Ivan Howard and Kelly Crisp built their initial fame on twee love songs and cutesy pop — not unlike The Brunettes or Belle & Sebastian, except distinctly American in their tone and musicianship. This isn't that band anymore. In 2011, The Rosebuds are moody, and we got the sense they didn't know exactly what they wanted to be, but knew what they were done with (i.e., cutesy pop songs). Hence the whirlwind tour through indie-rock past. There were bits and pieces that we dug — "Boxcar" was a highlight, for instance — but we couldn't shake the feeling that it sounded so much better and so much more comfortable on the record.
During intermission, we couldn't help but notice how diverse the crowd was. We expected the ironic facial hair brigade, but did you guys know that bros are into Bon Iver? We suspect Kanye. We're not sure how to account for the lady carrying around a small dog, though. Also, douchey Seth Rogen look-alike who insisted, "Black people don't like Bon Iver": You could not have been more wrong. Dick.
Here's what we were expecting from a Bon Iver show: Justin Vernon serenading a fawning audience with limited accompaniment to his spooky falsetto, taking full advantage of The Ryman's acoustics and an enraptured crowd. Here's what we got: Vernon backed by an eight-piece band including two drummers and a slew of brass instruments. Had someone told us three years ago that not only would we be seeing a nine-member Bon Iver in 2011, but also that it would totally work, we would have shunned them for their impossibly stupid predictions.
They were the same Bon Iver songs, equally drawing from both records, as well as the Blood Bank EP, except bigger, more robust and, dare we say, kinda epic. We can already hear our punk-rock friends making fun of us for loving a show that at one point featured a clarinet solo, but even they would probably shut up by the end of the arresting rhythmic drone during "Creature Fear."
The only way this kind of music can work in a live setting is by forging an emotional connection with the audience, and Bon Iver accomplishes that admirably. Vernon eventually circled around to stripped-down songs like "RE: Stacks." Even the always-out-of-place country cover (they obliged tradition with a rendition of "If Hollywood Don't Need You" by Don Williams) didn't feel as out of place as it usually does.
As the night wound to a close, The Ryman clichés crept in further with an unyieldingly earnest sing-along to "The Wolves" and the obligatory unplugged version of "Skinny Love." There are two ways to go about performing at The Ryman: Either you struggle against the history and attempt to ignore the weightiness of the occasion, or you embrace it without hesitation. Bon Iver embraced it, and we couldn't have been any more satisfied with the outcome. Even if it does ruin our mosh-pit street cred.
The Spin should have known better. The Spin did know better — even before we arrived at Municipal Auditorium on Sunday night. And yet we made a mistake. A mistake that we will never repeat. From here on out, The Spin will never, ever set foot in a venue until we know LMFAO — the band, not the acronym — has left the stage and won't be returning. They annoyed the hell out of us when they were just two turds rapping over shitty tracks, but now that they can afford dancers and props and obnoxious eye-burning costumes, they're even worse. We always thought we had a fondness for the lowest common denominator, but then we found out it's a lot lower than we thought. And it's wearing Hawaiian shirts and carrying inflatable palm trees.
We showed up early for the Ke$ha show to catch openers Spank Rock. SR's debut album, YoYoYoYoYo, was one of our favorite underground hip-hop releases of the Aughts, but we hadn't caught them live yet and were anxious to hear the new material. We probably should have just waited for the album to drop. The artist-audience-venue combo just didn't work — the mix was muddy, the vibe in the crowd was "cool dad reconsiders his coolness," and Spank Rock's show is more late-night Saturday than early-evening Sunday. Also, we're not sure we dig the new material. It seemed to be grasping at some sort of pop aesthetic, but came across like unenthusiastic hip-house. We weren't impressed and really just wished we had stayed home, knowing full well that we were going to have to sit through the shittiest band on earth. Which we did, and it was awful.
But Ke$ha was great! Or at least her songs were. We could live without the staging — it was a complicated, ugly mess of scaffolding — and the dancing (not her strong suit, fer realz), and by that point the cool-but-not-very-impressive lighting rig was mostly just making our heads hurt. Watching her motorboat a pair of giant foam testicles was good for a laugh, but overall the non-music portions of the show left us, well, nonplussed. It was more spectacle than necessary, but at the same time not enough to really wow us — we would be more than happy to see Ke$ha just rock out with her band as they fly through the stack o' hits she's got under her belt. (And the rumor is that the next album is going to be more '70s-inspired, so maybe there's hope?)
Overall, Ke$ha banged out the hits, gave the glitter-crusted audience exactly what they wanted, and put on a pretty good show. But when she got to "We R Who We R" we had to cut out, because deep down, "We R" agoraphobic chain-smokers, and it had been a long, nicotine-less night surrounded by a large group of shrieking people.
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