Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Review: Bon Iver & Black Mountain | 2.29.07 | Montreal

Prior to this night I had written that not many concerts are worthy of a 5 hr drive through a snow storm. This one may not of been that extreme, but it was definitely worth the 3.5 hr early morning drive through occasional white-out conditions (which includes an extra 20 minutes going the wrong way in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE, QC at 2 am). But I'm getting in front of myself. Flatlander and I knew of an ensuing storm, but decided to head north with the understanding that we'd leave the venue at 12:30 am no matter what (storm was supposed to roll in around 1 am. Our thought was that we'd at least be on the front end of it. Little did we know...).

Flatlander and I have apparently started a pre-concert sushi eating tradition. Four times now I've had a meal at Isakaya Bistro and have yet to be disappointed. The piles of Banzai and Kamikaze maki were out of this world.

We rolled up the far end of St-Laurent until we spotted the nearly hidden La Sala Rossa. Luckily we walked in just as Quest for Fire's set started. Neither of us had heard of the recently formed Toronto group (made up of a bunch of veterans - ex-Deadly Snakes, Nordic Nomadic, etc.), but we were pleasantly surprised. The four piece plays that psychedelic-meets-Sabbath style stoner rock sound. Long hair, shoegazing, big guitars, thumping beats, and loud as hell. I'm looking forward to their debut, scheduled for spring on Montreal's Storyboard Label.

In between the sets I came to look around the room and started to really dig the space. It has an 250 person capacity and with a width larger then length. Bathed in red velvet, it's a historic 2nd floor venue (see fire code disaster) that originally served as a community/political center for the left-wing Jewish community. My mind came back into focus as Bon Iver took the stage.

I had the fortune of seeing Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon, open up for Elvis Perkins at Higher Ground at the end of November. I had previously fallen in love with his, at that time, hard to find debut, For Emma, Forever Ago (re-released on 2.19.08). It's a modern folk masterpiece, filled with ghostly falsettos and sincerity. The HG show was everything I expected; the lone man in the dark singing his heart out, surrounded by amazing guitars (he plays a 20's National Dobro for the bring-the-house -down Skinny Love) and an occasional kick drum. Despite the basic instrumentation, his presence was full and strong and true to the album.

Fast forward to Montreal. Vernon came on stage as a three piece. During this show Vernon's lyrics were just as intimate, but they were contrasted and enhanced by the large swirling sounds of the other two members. The end result was a Akron/Family-esque performance, albeit tamer - larger, louder, messier, but with three part harmonies cutting through the mayhem to bring perfect clarity. During "Wolves (Part I and II)" their were even drums falling to the floor under flying sticks and Vernon was uncontrollably standing up from his seat, strumming his clenched acoustic, veins popping out of his neck Henry Rollins style. It was as if Bon Iver (phonically: bohn eevair) had grown up before my eyes - transitioned from a toddler to a tree climber in a mere three months.

Here is a minute or so of Blindsided, which illustrates the spectrum.

Black Mountain came out in all their rock star glory. Huge fat rock guitars, McBean's long goatee, keyboardist's Sunn o))) t-shirt, smoke, prog lights - the whole package. The show started with the In The Future opener "Stormy High" with Steve McBean playing perfect riffs to Amber Webber's howls.

I hadn't noticed how prevalent Webber was on the album, but live she is front and center. She has a massively haunting Grace Slick (Jefferson Airplane) sound that plays perfect to the heavy prog-psychedelic-stoner sound. I had heard that their live shows could be sloppy, but this show, including their 19 minute closer ("Bright Lights"), was nearly as tight as Fragile.

We headed down the stairs as the second encore came to a close, exactly at 12:30 am. What we weren't expecting was this:

Despite getting schooled at the boarder for not bringing my birth certificate along with my licensee (wtf?), we finished the grueling white knuckle drive by 4:15 am. I laid in bed satisfied, happy, and not the least cursing the drive.

And if you haven't checked these acts out during the tour, then I suggest heading over to NPR's excellent All Songs Considered and stream their 2/19/08 show from Washington DC's Rock and Roll Hotel.

Quest for Fire | Hawk that Hunts the Walking

Bon Iver | The Wolves (Part I and II) | Buy

Black Mountain | Stormy High | Buy


Mario said...

Funny you should compare akron family to bon iver, seeing as his former bandmates (from deyarmond edison) are currently members of akron family.

jds said...

Great point. I actually forgot about that relationship. Thanks Mario.

bg said...

hmmm... knew I should have braved the drive. Sounds like a great show - thanks for the review and the little video. Probably have to wait a year before he hits the northeast again. oh well...