LIVE: Bon Iver, live at the Sydney Opera House, Sydney (11-03-12)

Bon Iver

As Bon Iver took to the stage, they were welcomed with rapturous applause – and deservedly so. For Emma, Forever Ago won across an initial horde of devoted fans, and their latest album, Bon Iver, Bon Iver, was received incredibly well – so much so that it won the band a Grammy. Bon Iver have gone from strength to strength, and the excitement in the air was palpable.

The band took no time in launching into the appropriate opener of “Perth”. The first notes rang sharply throughout the hall, and to be honest – it felt a bit strange. After being so accustomed to the softer nuances of these tracks on record, to hear them explode forth and completely fill the Opera House was something else entirely.

But – apart from the rare moment where it seemed slightly too loud – it worked. Really well.

The nine musicians on stage changed instruments on a regular basis, but none of them ever faltered or missed a step. Saxophones, violins, horns and even a trombone were all present, all contributing to the musical landscape that formed over the night. I was sceptical about needing two drum kits at first, but even they proved their worth, providing a powerful intensity when needed (not to mention those jaw-dropping off-beats!). Having so many people on stage could have gone badly for Bon Iver, but the expansive majesty that came with it paid off.

However one of the most impressive instruments was one of the most natural. Justin Vernon’s voice is a thing to behold. What really stands out is the emotive force behind it, that can shift everything in a single moment. Lines like “Oh and we done it, because it’s right,” from the achingly beautiful “Wash.” took on an entirely new life, being forced out of Vernon’s mouth in the most uncontrollably cathartic way possible. His falsetto was pristine and rang out, and to say we were in awe would’ve been an understatement.

Bon Iver

Midway through the set, a seat was brought out for Vernon, and a crew member adjusted his mic. “These guys put my underwear on in the morning too,” he joked, before beginning what was arguably one of the most anticipated songs of the night – “Skinny Love”.

I was concerned that the frail, tender nature of the song might be crushed under the weight of nine musicians. But hearing the band bellow “my, my, my” in unison with Vernon was one of the most warming and memorable moments of the night. It almost felt as if they took on our role as the audience – for if this were a festival set, there’s no doubt that each and every one of us would have been singing along. But “Skinny Love” wasn’t the only song to have noticeable differences.

A mighty saxophone solo from Colin Stetson segued into the beginning of “Blood Bank”, which took on a much more direct and assertive approach. The slow-burning, delicate love song from the EP of the same name was transformed into a stronger and much more driven piece.

Credit must be given to the band for managing to adapt so many songs, some ever so slightly, to a new environment. However that’s not to say that they’ve lost their initial charm. Those of you that fell in love with the alluring subtleties of For Emma, Forever Ago will still find that connection live, just in slightly different places. Dynamically the band know exactly when to draw back, and when to burst forth, and it’s this that allows everything to fall into place.

After performing works from across their three main releases (“Wash.” and a solo version of “re: Stacks” being definite highlights), Vernon asked the crowd to join him during the final song of the night – and while it seemed odd to have to request participation in a moment like this, it felt necessary at a venue like the Opera House. The audience seemed to have far too much reverence – for fellow concert-goers, for the venue, and for Bon Iver – to spontaneously sing at the top of their lungs (although it didn’t stop some from holding up their phones for long periods). Maybe that’s why their efforts sounded so reluctant. Nevertheless, “The Wolves (Act I and II)” sounded magnificent, with the crowd repeating “What might’ve been lost” over a monumental finish.

Everyone was quick to stand as all nine musicians lined the stage, and applause filled the hall. Collectively, the crowd’s response seemed not only thankful for the amazing set we’d just witnessed, but also demanding of more. My generation has grown up to expect encores – not to be pleasantly surprised by them – and there was no way Bon Iver were getting away without one.

After some time, the band returned and the applause instantly subsided as people sat down again in anticipation. They then launched into “Creature Fear”, which built up to an immense wall of dissonant sound. Much like “The Wolves (Act I and II)”, the huge release of energy felt like an apt place to end the set – but we were in for one last song. Thanking the crowd once more, the band began to close the night with the slow dusty brass of “For Emma” –  again, earning a standing ovation.

It’s more important than ever that I now refer to Bon Iver collectively as a band. No longer is it just Vernon at the helm of this ship. The addition of other musicians added another element to their second album, it certainly adds a welcome element to their live show – and I’d like to think that it’s a form of the band that will stick around, because it sounded nothing short of astounding.

To witness such intrinsically beautiful music performed in the Opera House was a privilege. And while Bon Iver may not believe that they’re magnificent – everyone at the Opera House on Sunday most certainly does.

~

Check out some of the great photos taken by Music at the House over here on Facebook.


FEATURE: Gig Etiquette

We may not be able to fix global warming or poverty just yet, but the world would be a slightly nicer place if people followed these simples rules while attending gigs.

1. Plan your arrival time based on your height.

This might be harsh, but if you’re short and worried about not seeing, you have two choices: either arrive early and get a good spot, or suck it up. Positioning at a gig is equal playing ground – first in, best dressed. The fact that you’re short does not override the fact that I’ve waited for hours and lined up for a top spot. Chances are, I’m a huge fan of the band too.

That said, if you’re taller you can show some sympathy and be nice. On most occasions I’m not too bothered to let someone short in front of me. But don’t go to a gig and assume it’s your right to be able to push in front. It’s not.

And no, do not pull that bullshit excuse of “you’re tall, you can still see if you go second row”. There is a huge difference between the barrier and second row, especially in a lively crowd where you’re being thrown around.

2. Don’t be a sloppy drinker.

You know what? I actually don’t want your beer thrown over me, funnily enough. Nor do I want it in my hair, on my shirt, or all over my shoes. Keep it in your glass thanks.

3. Be polite.

If I offer you my spot against the barrier, say “thank you”. Don’t pull a face like I should’ve offered earlier.

Same goes for anything else where general manners come into play. If you accidentally elbow or land on someone – apologise. Use common sense.

4. Don’t act like a gorilla on cocaine.

People go to a gig ’cause they wanna enjoy live music. Don’t flail your arms around and barge into people, especially if you’ve got a larger build. Seeing huge (usually drunk) guys lumbering around the mosh and ruining the night for people who are smaller is pretty disgusting. By all means mosh and jump around, but don’t do it at the expense of others.

5. Watch out for people around you.

See someone get knocked down? Help them up, don’t just leave them on the floor. Someone can’t breathe against the barrier? Let a security guard know.

You know what I’m talking about. Act like a bro towards people you’ve never met – some day you could be in their spot.

6. Shut your talk-hole.

Sure, you can chat with your mates, but don’t insist on yelling to your friends throughout the whole gig when people are trying to listen to music. Especially if it’s an acoustic act. No one needs to hear about your visit to the dentist last week.

7. Follow basic hygiene conventions.

Wear deodorant and keep your shirt on. It’s natural to sweat during a gig, especially in a tight crowd, but that doesn’t mean I want you to cover me in it. Deodorant will help cover the stench of pure evil too.

8. Dress appropriately.

There are very few gigs where huge handbags and stupid hats are appropriate. And yes – that’s also a no for heels. Partly because I don’t want you rolling an ankle, but mainly because I don’t want you breaking my freakin’ toes. Just wear something normal and practical.

9. Unless you have a media pass, you are not a professional photographer.

I don’t have to move aside so you can use a big camera to take nice pictures. By all means, take a couple (I take a two or three on my phone for reviews), but let’s be honest – unless you’re in the photographers’ pit, your photos are going to be sub-par compared to what you’ll find on a professional site.

Mosh pits can be rough. Bringing an expensive camera is plain risky. But no matter what you’re using, don’t hold it up all night – it’s ridiculously annoying. Put it away and enjoy the gig, yeah?

10. Don’t be a dick.

If these are too much to remember, just keep this one in mind and you should be fine.

Thanks to the contributions from Electric Skeleton, And Pluck Your Strings, Sabi’s Aus Music Blog, and Wasting Time.

LIVE: Karnivool, live at The Metro Theatre, Sydney (01-07-10)

Karnivool #5

One week ago, I embarked on a journey of epic proportions. Joined by one of my best friends and my dad, at approximately 8 o’clock in the morning we began a 7 hour drive to Sydney to see one of my favourite bands ever: Karnivool.

Doors at The Metro Theatre were set to open at 8pm, and not wanting to miss the opportunity to be up against the barrier, we lined up 2 hours early. Around 5 minutes after lining up, looking down the alley beside the Metro, who do we see but the one and only Ian Kenny! Deciding to take the chance while we had it, my friend and I walked up to him to see if we could get a photo before the gig. At first I wasn’t sure how he’d react – musicians such as himself must get asked for photos and approached by fans all the time, and it would probably get tiring. But he was the nicest guy, and was only too happy to have a quick chat and take a photo. It really made the night, getting to meet a musician from one of my favourite bands.

After that, we returned to the line outside the Metro. We were still basically at the very front, and the next 2 odd hours were spent chatting with a couple of people in line with us and a security guard (who by the way was one of the coolest security guards I’ve ever met).

The clock hit 8 and we all waited with anticipation for the doors to finally open. It took them about 10 minutes to let us in, and we walked (albeit very quickly) up the stairs to hand in our tickets and make our way inside.

Gay Paris #1

The first support act, Gay Paris, were on at about 8.30, so we didn’t have long to wait for some entertainment.

Initially, I had my doubts about Gay Paris. I checked out some of their demos and wasn’t terribly impressed, but their live show was something a bit more special. The lead singer’s style was out there, to say the least. Jumping all over the stage, talking with the audience, telling stories, rolling on the floor – it was all a bit odd, but it was interesting. He put a whole tonne of energy into it and it paid off. The guitarist I was closest to kept pulling surprised faces every so often, and did some awesome jumps during the tenser moments in their set.

In an instrumental sense, their material is full of loud rock hooks and quasi-punk-rock drumming, and it really does sound pretty good. The vocal lines consist primarily of deep growls, making most of the lyrics unintelligible from my perspective, but if that’s your thing then you should check these guys out. All in all, they put on an energetic show, and looked thrilled to be supporting someone as relatively big as Karnivool. So kudos to the guys for being interesting and warming everyone up – you did a great job.

MM9 #5

Next up were electro-rockers MM9. I was pretty excited to see these guys, having heard about their solid reputation when it comes to live shows.

They ended up being pretty entertaining. For those of you unfamiliar with them, they’re like a rockier version of Pendulum. The lead singer stood behind what looked like a small keyboard and a Mac, occasionally standing away from it and singing directly at the audience. The drumming was top notch, and was clearly tough work. The drummer had sweat pouring off his face by the end of the set.

Apart from a few troubles the guitarist had at one point, the set was flawless (as far as I could tell) on a technical level. It sounded good, and they interacted with the crowd, getting us all to sing along at a few points.

MM9 have recently released their debut “The Air Between”, and it sounds like they could begin making some bigger waves very soon. Keep an eye on them.

By this point the crowd was brimming with excitement. With each support act the mosh was getting more and more lively. With the curtains drawn over the stage, and the Karnivool guys doing a quick little sound-check to make sure everything was in order, everyone was getting fairly pumped.

The curtains opened, and we were given an empty stage. Everything was in its place. All we needed was the band. Then they came out.

Karnivool #9

The reaction from the crowd upon their entry was to be expected. It was enormous. This was the moment we’d all been waiting for.

Coming out on stage, Karnivool launched into the lead single from their latest LP “Sound Awake” – “Set Fire To The Hive”. And what a fitting beginning it was. The raw energy behind the song was matched only by the energy inherent in the audience’s enthusiasm. It felt like at least half of the mosh pit was singing along to every single word.

Karnivool then moved onto the rhythmically changing “Goliath” and LP opener “Simple Boy”, which saw guitarist Mark Hosking pick up a pair of xylophone mallets for the distinctive opening melody.

Karnivool #14

Everyone’s performances on the night were amazing. Drew Goddard’s extensive pedal set-up allowed him to recreate the majority of the studio sounds in a live environment, and when a band puts on a performance that’s so good you can hardly tell the difference between them and a CD, you know they’re something special. Ian Kenny’s vocals were amazing, and did not disappoint one bit. Jon Stockman’s bass playing was energetic and ferocious, yet still accurate. Though Mark Hosking was over on the opposite side of the stage to where I was, I couldn’t fault anything I heard, and Steve Judd’s drumming was superb, handling every time signature change and rhythmic nuance like the expert he is (I’m not sure why he had a plush bee on his drum kit, but it was cool none-the-less). In a sense I expected all of this. Karnivool are widely renowned for their live performances, and it really was a sight to behold, seeing 5 extremely talented musicians up on stage playing together.

Launching into “C.O.T.E”, one of my favourites from their debut album “Themata”, provided a nice contrast between their equally interesting songs from a few years ago and their latest material. At the end of the night, they really did quite a good job of mixing together old and new material. “Roquefort”, “Themata”, and “Shutterspeed” all got an airing, and the crowd loved it. These more mosh-friendly tunes really got everyone pumped up and excited.

Karnivool #7

Having already played through most of “Sound Awake” however, there was one final track to play before the main set was closed: “Change”. Having been alternating between “Deadman” and “Change” at previous gigs, I was glad they played the latter. It’s an amazing track that goes for over 10 minutes, and it really showcases everything brilliant about Karnivool: their ability to create moving songs, that despite their length manage to be captivating and beautiful. “Change”’s different sections fit together seamlessly, and this song is truly amazing. A brilliant end to the main set.

Karnivool #2

After around 5 minutes, Karnivool came out again to a rapturous applause. Everyone knew the encore was going to be something special – and they were right.

Bringing out fan favourite “Fade” from their “Persona” EP showed just how far Karnivool have come over the years. Moving from their early nu-metal influenced days, they’ve developed into a more progressive and unique group. I warned my friend earlier about “Fade”, and it turned out I was right – the mosh pit went off. Everyone loved it. I suspect that the New Day tour gigs could be the last gigs that they’ll play it. Maybe they’re giving it one last run before they put it on the shelf. I don’t have any evidence to justify it, but it’s just a feeling I get.

After “Fade” they pulled out the tour’s title track – “New Day”. Kenny’s hair was a little dishevelled, and they were beginning to look tired, but it seemed to me that Karnivool put in every ounce of energy possible, right up until the final notes.

All up it was an amazing gig. My friend managed to get one of Judd’s drum-sticks and a set-list, but the real prize was a drum plate thrown out at the end. It had been signed by all of the band, and was well out of my reach, going straight into the middle of the mosh.

I feel like I probably spent too much time taking photos and not enough time getting into the gig (you live and learn I guess), but regardless I still enjoyed myself a hell of a lot. It was one of the best gigs I’ve been too, and one of the most enjoyable. If you ever get a chance to see Karnivool, do so. For $40, Thursday was an absolute bargain. Make sure you see them before they start filling stadiums.

You can view a tonne of fairly good quality videos from the night here from ChezBerryxXx.

You can check out the whole set-list from the night here.

You can view all of the photos that I took here.

Also; check out the professional, and consequently much better photos taken by TheEnglishGentleman from FasterLouder over here.

triple j also managed to snap a few awesome ones. Take a look here.

LIVE: Pearl Jam, live at Etihad Stadium, Melbourne (20-11-09)

Pearl Jam. One of the most successful alternative rock bands in the world. On Friday the 20th of November, 2009, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see them live. They did not disappoint.

Though we were seated in the stadium, and missed out on the feeling of being crushed against the barrier by hundreds of people and being within mere meters of the band (despite the notion sounding ridiculously uncomfortable and painful on paper, it really isn’t that bad, and is entirely worth it), we did have very good seats that provided us with an almost direct view of the stage and the two screens situated either side.

The first support act, Liam Finn, was very good. Though I’d only heard a few of his songs, the way in which he played his guitar parts, looped them around, and then went to play the drums and sing for a bit was very clever. He gave off so much energy while he was on stage, jumping up and down all the time, singing into the mic while practically lying down, and then leaping about with all sorts of instruments, he certainly got the crowd going and put a lot of effort in.

After about a half hour wait, Ben Harper and the Relentless 7 came on for their support slot. Having heard next to none of their songs, I was pleasantly surprised. Harper’s slide guitar playing was very skillful, and his voice practically radiated around the stadium. It was amazing, he managed to put so much emotion into his songs, while moving from the softer more delicate songs to vary his style throughout the set. Edit: It was during Ben Harper’s set that Vedder came out to join them in a rendition of Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie.

By the end of the support acts, the stadium was close to having filled up entirely. The front mosh section was absolutely packed.

It was about 8.30 when Pearl Jam came on, and it’ll come as no surprise that the crowd went crazy. Beginning with Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town, a brilliant acoustic number which contains one of the best moments for the crowd to join in on vocal duties, they continued to proceed through the majority of their most popular hits for the next 2 hours. Playing well known numbers such as Alive, Jeremy, Even Flow, and Daughter, amongst the many other songs they pulled out, it was impossible to go away from the concert being disappointed. Although I’m unfamiliar with some of their more obscure songs, as I only have a best of and a live album, I’m sure that they mixed up their set list and played some other fan favourites as well. With the number of songs they have up their sleeve, they have a stunning amount of freedom in terms of the material they play.

Initially after playing for about an hour, they left the stage and finished up. But as everyone there knew, it was merely a pretext for the next few encores that were to come. The first encore involved inviting Ben Harper out to cover Queen and David Bowie, with Under Pressure. (Edit: Sorry about that, got mixed up. Thanks for the correction) After playing another 8 odd songs I’d say, they left again, only to be called out by an enthusiastic and loving crowd for a few more. This time, Vedder invited Liam Finn out to do a duet, which was very good. It was great in the way he not only interacted with the crowd, telling stories and dedicating songs to people, but also in the way they involved the support acts in their own. They were so dedicated, that they continued playing until after the lights in the stadium were back on, normally an indication of a completed gig.

In the end, it was an amazing experience. They had so much energy, playing and running around for hours, and they involved the crowd as well. It’s really these kind of bands that put on a great show for their fans that are the good ones live. A brilliant concert, well worth the $100+ ticket price.