Bon Iver shares the top spot with Chilly Gonzales when it comes to the best live performances that I've ever seen. In contrast to Chilly's solo show, Bon Iver had a stage so packed with people and instruments, it almost looked like an orchestra. Everyone on stage played 2 or 3 instruments and with all of those different sounds going on, it would have been easy for things to get muddy. Somehow, those varied voices managed to coexist.
The venue, Massey Hall, may have had something to do with that. I've never been to a venue with better sound than that one. The skill of the musicians, the beautiful song arrangements, and the acoustics of the building, all came together to create a perfect backdrop for Justin Vernon's mesmerizing vocals. Ranging from a deep baritone to his signature soaring falsetto, Justin's voice itself seemed like multiple instruments. It all came together perfectly to create something special.
The Bon Iver and Chilly Gonzales shows were opposites in terms of the complexity of their arrangements. However, they both managed to make their compositions feel "alive". While Chilly's solo piano pieces seemed to overflow with human emotions, Bon Iver brought their songs to life in a different way.
There were a few times during the show where the musicians would begin to freestyle. Up until that point, I had always thought of freestyling as one person playing a solo while everyone else backs the soloist up. Bon Iver did something different. Everyone would just start doing their own thing at their own random tempos. It was weird, but it worked. While Chilly's performance simulated humanity, Bon Iver's simulated nature. Hearing all of those sounds cutting in and out randomly felt like standing in a forest and listening to the sounds of the animals, running water, and the wind through the trees. It felt wild and organic. I loved it.