He was hands down my favorite artist/album of 2008. For Emma, Forever Ago is a haunting and beautiful piece of work -- one of the few albums I can listen to on repeat and never get tired of. Justin Vernon's falsetto has an intimate quality that leaves its listener spellbound. One review of his album said it was like reading some guy's diary.
Through much coaxing and begging I got Ashton to drive up to Salt Lake with me, along with Ethan, where we met the rest of the crew at the Gallivan Center. Greg had been saving seats for about an hour and had a nice little perch under the pavilion on the left side. The crowds were much larger than previous years, and the place was packed with every demographic, from infant to elderly. Most the people were college age, and by their appearance you could tell they were proud U students. Tattoos, piercings and cleavage abounded.
Jenny Lewis opened the show, and I must say she was a lot better than I expected. I usually can't take more than a couple songs when I listen to her albums, but she's a really great performer. I'd say her voice is just as good if not better live than in her recordings. She played stuff from Rilo Kiley and her solo work with the Watson Twins. My favorite number was "Handle with Care." During Lewis's set Ashton went shopping at Trolley Square. While she was gone Andrew and Drew arrived, followed by Allyson and Drew Tack. There were a lot of Drews around.
Ashton got back right before Bon Iver's set started, and I left our spot to go meet her. We had to cross through quite the gauntlet to get back to our crew, dodging endless cups of beer overflowing with foam. Justin Vernon came out a little before nine, accompanied by three backup musicians who bounced from guitar to drums. He opened the concert with "Flume," a favorite of mine, to set the tone. We were all bursting with excitement.
It was one of the few shows I've gone to where the artist played every single song I wanted to hear. That's largely because Bon Iver is still so new; he's only got one major album. From For Emma he played "Lump Sum," "Creature Fear," "Wolves" and "Skinny Love." All four of those songs gave me the goosebumps. I really liked the additional beats provided by the three drummers, especially during "Skinny Love." "Creature Fear" probably got me going the most, with its building climax at the end. He also favored us with the new single he contributed to the Dark Was the Night compilation, "Bracket, WI." That song freaking rocks. It has a really heavy baseline and a sweet beat. He also played some songs from his Blood Bank EP, like the less crowd-pleasing "Babys," which he claimed is about "reproduction." When he finished that song he gave a shoutout to all the pregnant people in the audience, and everyone around us looked right at Ashton, our friends congratulating her.
As expected, his encore was the title track from the Blood Bank EP, and we all just melted into the music, ignoring the hosts of obnoxious chatterers on the fringes. It was a beautiful song, and the perfect way to end the show. I left thinking I would definitely pay to see that guy play again. It was just such an impressive production -- the perfect first concert for the baby.