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Bon Iver

On Thursday morning, I received the best type of text.

“hey does anyone want a free ticket to the Bon Iver concert today? my friend bailed.”

I hadn’t bought tickets for the show since I had no one to go with, so I quickly responded with an excited “heck yeah!!” Immediately, I decided to listen to the artist’s entire discography, in reverse chronological order. As the day progressed, my excitement for the show mounted. I had loved the most recent album, and in high school, Bon Iver’s first album changed my life. I found it hard to focus, although that turned out to be because of a sinus infection that sent me home from work early. But, I was determined to make it to the show and took a two-hour nap in preparation.

We headed to the shiny new Chase Center 30 minutes early. Before we found our seats, we grabbed overpriced water and poutine and watched an opener play vaguely familiar tunes. When her set finished, the crowd anxiously chattered, excited for the main act. As the crew set up the stage, a video of Justin Vernon (the lead singer of the band) played. He was shooting free throws in a makeshift basketball court in the countryside, with the sun setting behind him. At the bottom of the screen, there was a ticker that showed how many shots he had made vs attempted and a percentage to represent his accuracy. The video went on for what felt like forever, long enough for him to attempt nearly 200 shots. His percentage would put some NBA players to shame as he made about 70-80% of them. By the end of the video, the sun was all but set. I couldn’t help but wonder if the show would reflect a similar level of intensity and focus.

The basketball video shifted into a variety of images matching Bon Iver’s distinct visual language, leading up to the band appearing and starting to play. What followed was some of the most incredible few hours of my life, as Vernon and his band assembled these incredible soundscapes I had become so familiar with. Each member bounced between 5 to 6 instruments, switching with ease and often playing multiple over the course of a single song. Half the time, it seemed like they didn’t even see the crowd. They seemed like they were jamming in their own homes.

Bon Iver has had a really interesting journey, beginning as a guitar-centric solo music project and turning into an experimental, electronic-infused folk band that filled arenas. Yet somehow, the setlist told that story clearly. The journey of the band all made sense as the audience got to see how the harmonies from For Emma, Forever Ago developed into the aggressively synthesized vocals of 22, A Million. The common thread was uncovered and put on full display as the band played.

Everything about the performance felt so intentional. It was obvious that hundreds of hours had gone into every part of the production. More than that, the entire show felt like a collaboration. It felt like the light show designers were on the same team as those who shot the basketball video and as the band who selected all of the songs. Justin even expanded on this by saying, “this production is so much more than us on stage. We’re not in love with being on stage and in front of everyone, we’re in love with playing these instruments.” More than anything else, the whole event felt like a love letter from artists to their arts, just happy to share what they loved to do.

I’ve only become more excited about Bon Iver since, digging more deeply into their music and lyrics. These lines from “Faith” stood out to me, suggesting the simplicity of us all.
It's time to be brave
Content to the phrases
That at dawn, we ain't mazes
Just some kind of pages

The whole experience inspires me to create differently. I used to try and convince myself that art and creation were some larger forms of communication and that the communication was made the art beautiful. But maybe "we ain’t mazes." Maybe it’s way simpler than that. Maybe just creating for the sake of creating is beautiful.
Drops of the Week
where I *drop* recommendations of cool things this week
“Bon Iver’s Latest Album Is a Celebration of What It Means to Be Human” by Will Schube - if my gushing wasn’t enough, here’s another article of someone gushing about this band.
Us - Jordan Peele does thrillers well. 
ice cube emoji - internet friends can be a good source of good playlists. This one’s been one of my go-tos lately. s/o cara and her newsletter.
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Nikhil · 325327 Georgia Tech Station · Atlanta, GA 30332 · USA

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