The recent debut album by Bon Iver, For Emma, Forever Ago, is one of my favorites of the year so far. (And some may count it as one of the best of 2007, if they were lucky enough to get a copy of it when it first came out as a very limited release last year, before Secretly Canadian picked it up this year for a well-deserved re-release.) Bon Iver, a.k.a. Justin Vernon, came to Chicago on Thursday (April 10) for two sold-out shows at the Lakeshore Theater, a nice sit-down venue that used to be the Broadway movie theater years back. It was a perfect venue for the sorrowful, beautiful, largely acoustic music of Bon Iver. But while I was expecting that side of my music, I wasn’t quite prepared for how much the songs would rock when Vernon and his two backing musicians cranked things up. Vernon sings in a falsetto filled with longing. His songs are a little bit folkie, but they remind me more of the acoustic ballads that a 1960s or ’70s rocker might have recorded, with some melodic phrasing worthy of the great power-pop acts from those days.
Vernon sat down the whole show, switching between various guitars (most of them pretty old-looking), and when he’d played every song from his album, he told the audience that’s all there was and left without an encore. In his between-song comments, he seemed genuinely appreciative of the warm reception he received.
The opening act, Josh Scott, also sang a lot of falsetto notes, aiming at times for Jeff Buckley territory. His vocal delivery was impressive, and most of his songs were pretty good. A few might have benefited from backing musicians and fuller arrangements. One thing I have to give this guy credit for is having a very winning and humorous personality. His dry remarks between the songs had the audience laughing pretty hard at times.