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Wednesday, Oct 14, 2009
by Kevin Mueller
Words by Kevin Mueller, Photos by CJ Foeckler

Calling Justin Vernon a nice guy is like saying the Rolling Stones are a good blues rock band.  They’re both whopping understatements.  Bon Iver’s frontman goes out of his way to make you feel welcome.  And the guy’s so polite that he apologizes for being so polite.  It’s this sincerity that made his performance Sunday night at Milwaukee’s Riverside Theater such a treat.


Vernon’s tall tale, and now familiar, back-story has always threatened to eclipse his music (Raleigh folkie breaks up with girlfriend and band; moves back to northwestern Wisconsin hometown; locks himself in cabin for three months and composes beautiful debut album) 2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago.  But here in Milwaukee, a place where fans want to claim Bon Iver as their own, Vernon and company are calling it quits for “an indefinite amount of time.”  Not surprisingly, Vernon won’t stop thanking people.


The hiatus coincides with Vernon’s latest release with his side project, Volcano Choir, featuring the Milwaukee group Collection of Colonies of Bees.  There were murmurs of a possible invitation to the group to join him on stage, but nothing came of it.  The thought must have whirled around Vernon’s head, but it would’ve been an imposing, egotistical move.  Someone with his grace wouldn’t sideline his own band to introduce his new outfit, especially on the former’s final gig.


Vernon’s whinny falsetto has always defined Bon Iver’s sound, but it was his backing band that gave the group its ethereal beauty on Sunday.  Michael Noyce’s guitar creaked, evoking rusty, wooden doors; multi-instrumentalist Sean Carey’s quaint wind chimes opened “Lump Sum,” giving the song an eerily pastoral feel.  The two’s percussion, along with Matthew McCaughan, rang like thunder on “Skinny Love.”  During this tune, along with “Flume” and “Lump Sum,” Vernon, with unkempt hair and scraggly beard, transplanted the audience back to his solitary Eau Claire cabin.  He didn’t leave them there long, though, mixing his set with shredding solos on “Creature Fear” and “Blood Bank,” showing glimpses of his experimental side.


A staple of their live shows, Bon Iver covered The Outfield’s “Your Love,” bringing some ‘80s camp to the otherwise serene night.  “The Wolves (Part I And II)” transcendentally closed the set as the crowd repeated the line “what might have been lost,” crescendoing louder and louder into a full-out burst of energy.  As the seats rumbled it was obvious that, no matter how courteous, Justin Vernon still puts on a hell of a rock show.



The entire performance can be streamed here.


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Tuesday, Oct 13, 2009
by Dave MacIntyre
The Twilight Sad + We Were Promised Jetpacks + BrakesBrakesBrakes / Words and Pictures by Dave MacIntyre

One of the greatest benefits of live band journalism/photography is the exposure you get to artists that are not yet in the mainstream. In most cases, these artists are opening acts who perform their hearts out attempting to make a lasting impression and ideally, warm up the audience for the acts that follow. Such was the case Saturday night at the El Mocambo in Toronto when the UK’s the Brakes (known as BrakesBrakesBrakes in North America due to a Philly based punk band’s claim on the truncated name) started the evening with an adrenaline boosting set of super-catchy pop songs. Fronted by former British Sea Power member Eamon Hamilton, the band formed in 2003 and has toured with the likes of Belle & Sebastian and the Killers, their experience evident both in ability and crow-pleasing interaction.


Next up was Glasgow’s We Were Promised Jetpacks, labelmates of the night’s headliner The Twilight Sad. The four-piece was immediately greeted by a wild group of cheering fans, whistling and clapping before they even had instruments in hand. They performed a tight set of shoe-gazey heart-felt melodies, all through which their fans openly sang along.


The room became electrified when headliners The Twilight Sad finally stepped on stage. After what I had just witnessed, I expected nothing short of an epic performance. Musically, the band sounded equally good live as when studio produced, covering songs from both Fourteen Autumns & Fifteen Winters and the recently released Forget The Night Ahead, but their stage presence lacked the group unity the two previous bands exemplified. Band member interaction was virtually non-existent as each performer stood in expressionless stoicism throughout the entire show, with the exception of singer James Graham who, in his attempt to convey the angst and melancholy of the lyrics, sang on his knees and, at times, beat the drum set with his own stick. His whole performance felt too contrived, unconvincing and was more distracting than anything. Looking behind me to gauge how the rest of the room might be feeling, I wasn’t surprised to see the crowd had thinned considerably and those who were still there didn’t appear to be really into it either. By the end of the set, which concluded with a solid five minutes of feedback from the strings and Graham standing motionless staring off into space, I was ready to go home as well.


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Monday, Oct 12, 2009
Words and Pictures by Thomas Hauner

Rosanne Cash performed for a sold-out crowd Saturday night at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn to celebrate the release of her latest album, The List.  The album, like Ms. Cash’s own repertoire, spanning both genres and epochs, is a selection of songs from a list of 100 that her father, Johnny Cash, presented to her in 1973 as a rudimentary syllabus of country, or rather American, songs.  Her set drew heavily from the new re-interpretations while mixing in her own classics as well.  The crowd (equal parts inebriated yuppies and nostalgic boomers) was excitable yet polite, holding their collective breathes for poignantly delicate numbers like “Bury Me Under the Weeping Willow,” where her guitar danced and curtsied with John Levinthal’s, and “500 Miles.”  Other numbers like “Ode to Billie Joe” and “Motherless Children” became haunting spirituals over guitar, Ms. Cash’s strong vocals beguiling each with gentle vibrato.  However her set wasn’t all downbeat dirges and laments:  “Heartaches by the Number” possessed country-twang and “Radio Operator” imbued both her father’s ruggedness and army career.  The best song of the evening—and Ms. Cash’s proclaimed favorite on the The List—was “Long Black Veil,” its underlying darkness ruefully exhumed.  During the encore Ms. Cash drew from her father’s songbook, playing “Tennessee Flat-Top Box” and forgetting the third verse while her band vamped behind her.  It wasn’t a tell of her own age, but revealing her daughter’s request for a list of 100 essential songs was.


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Thursday, Oct 8, 2009
by Dave MacIntyre
Words and Pictures by Dave MacIntyre

After what seemed like an interminable wait for the sound check to complete, New York City rockers The Bravery took the stage to an anxiously waiting crowd at Toronto’s Opera House on Tuesday night.  It was well worth the wait.  The rich sound unleashed right from the get go was nothing short of monumental and worthy of a stadium-sized sound system.  Lead vocalist Sam Endicott strutted all over the stage sporting a white suit over a prison-stripe undershirt, completing the look with a white flower in his hair.  His voice was reminiscent of The Cure’s early era Robert Smith, a feature that complements the rock/electronica sound of the band.  It wasn’t until Endicott had half a dozen songs tucked away that he stopped to breathe and share with fans a story about the now-closed Brooklyn bar, Magnetic Field, a place the band once liked to frequent.  He added that their next song was about that place and launched into their hit “Believe” much to the delight of the wildly clapping crowd.  They kept the flow of songs steady and energetic for the rest of the set which included the current radio single “Slow Poison” as well as “Time Won’t Let Me Go”, and introduced some new material from their much anticipated upcoming album Stir The Blood.  An already great performance was capped off with a brilliant version of “Honest Mistake” and a short but sweet three-song encore.


Tagged as: the bravery
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Thursday, Oct 8, 2009
Words and Pictures by Rory O'Connor

No longer playing with the Licks, Juliette Lewis was in town playing a show with her new band,the New Romantiques, in support of their recent release Terra Incognita.  It was with a strong dose of curiosity that I found myself at the Bottom Lounge to see it.


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