The Power of Live

June 23rd, 2011

I have been inspired. This is not the first time I have been inspired by Andrew Heffner, but this time it is due to his recent posts over at Reading his thoughts have made me want to share mine again. Also, please read Cynicism vs Sincerity in the Music of Bon Iver. GREAT article.

Like many, For Emma, Forever Ago by Bon Iver has made my list of top albums since it came out in 2008. It’s creator, Justin Vernon, released his latest album under Bon Iver this past Tuesday, titled Bon Iver. I’ve had it’s pre-release for a bit and, honestly, was having trouble falling in love with it. (If you are unfamiliar with For Emma, Forever Ago, here is a small taste).

I have a self diagnosed issue with sophomore releases. This is true especially in the case where an artist has redefined music listening for me. Justin Vernon’s layered falsetto, soft horns, and basic rhythms redefined my understanding of ‘sadness through music’. I think when I get so emotionally invested in an album it is the songs themselves that I grow attachments to, the words, melodies, arrangements… not the artist. Though Justin Vernon was the creator of For Emma, Forever Ago, his second release, Bon Iver had to compete with himself the same way any other band’s new album would. I have had this issue before (Aquaduct and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah come to mind).

When I first started listening to Bon Iver there were moments of resentment, a kind of guilt, as I was betraying my original love. These feelings are normal with a followup and I have learned to subdue them and just keep listening. As you listen more you will gain that familiarity and recognition with the new songs. But it just wasn’t happening. I knew I wanted to love the new album, all of the components of music that I enjoy were there. If you have every REALLY fallend for an album you know this feeling. It’s the difference between love and appreciation. I appreciated it, but had not transitioned to love. I believe this transition is out of our control and often times happens for no reason.

The “power of live” took hold when I finally caught Bon Iver on The Colbert Report playing Calgary. I have found that this transition from appreciation to love can be made from experiencing a live performance. It often forces you to hear a song differently every time you listen to it afterwards. This was the hickory switch to my backside. It wasn’t much. It wasn’t an intimate performance at the Crowley Theater. It was just a 4 minute internet video at 3:42pm on a Tuesday afternoon.

I had a similar experience in April when I caught The Decemberists at Calvin College. I had been listening to their opener Justin Townes Earl for a few months and though I wanted to find love… the transition was never made. The power of live did it for me and I have been a hearty Justin Townes Earl listener since (Treme helped).

Another example is The Tallest Man on Earth album Shallow Grave. Here is the song that I tried to love. Here is the live version that made my transition from appreciation to love.

I guess my point is… Let’s please not forget the power of live. Lets remember that the transcendent ability of live performances is one of many reasons why high prices, Ticketmaster hassles, long trips, cold lines, over-priced drinks, hot stuffy amphitheaters (or sometimes a 4 minute internet video of the aforementioned frustrations) are all worthwhile.

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