I photographed Bon Iver the last time he played in Brisbane, at the same venue as he’s playing tonight, except this time around he’s playing three sold out nights at The Tivoli versus the one show back in 2009. It was a good show, a surprising show in a lot of ways as I didn’t think much of the album but found the live Bon Iver to be so much better than the recorded Bon Iver, the songs taking on a whole new life when performed on stage. Last time they’d put all the seats out, even though they he had already broken and they could have filled a lot more people into The Tivoli. At the time I wrote:
The crowd reaction maintains a fervent level throughout, but to the point where it’s too frenzied, too hysterical, over-zealous to the extreme and to the point of uncomfortableness. Yes, it’s good, yes it’s very good but it’s not THAT good. It’s not standing ovation good, which the audience provides at the end of the encore. It is still one guy with one 9-song album that clocks in at less than 38 minutes and a just-released four song EP. It’s a promising start, a very promising start, but it’s not the Second Coming.
This time around there are no seats and a lot more people crammed into The Tivoli. It’s a different crowd, a lot different. As walk up the street I come close to standing in a pile of sick on the pavement and then have to avoid all the empty bottles discarded along the road and make my way past all the people drinking as they make their way to the venue.
Sally Seltmann has the unfortunate honour to open the night. You can barely hear her play over all the talking. It’s just her and her piano and guitar; it might have been better if she’d brought her band to drown out all the chatter. She just gets on with it though, there are no Gareth Liddiard style rebukes from the stage to tell everyone to shut up. As she’s already started by the time I get there, I don’t photograph her. I check her setlist at the mixing desk and think that she’s already way past her first three songs. Instead I have to endure the audience noise levels for the rest of the time that she plays.
For Bon Iver, we get songs 2,3 and 4. Not sure why it’s not the usual 1 -3 but it’s what we’re told by the tour manager before the band starts. I’m sure that we only got part of the fourth song as well, before we were given a signal that time was up. He’s a hard subject as it is; there’s just too many microphones in the way and he keeps his eyes firmly shut most of the time. Last time, as it was seated, the photographers (I think there were only two or three of us) were given seats in a really good position underneath the stairs and got to watch the rest of the show from there. It was great for watching but less ideal for taking photos, with Justin Vernon sat right on the far side of the stage from our position. With it being general admission this time, when we leave the photo pit, it’s a case of trying to squeeze into a good position, although mostly this involves being on the very edge of the crowd, moving between being right at the back and being near the bar and looking through openings in the wall.
Whereas last time the crowd were over-zealous in their apperciation, this time the majority give the impression that they couldn’t care less about the music. It’s best personified by a dreadlocked guy at the bar who spends the whole night talking really loudly to a female friend who laughs like a horse at everything he says. He also endears himself to one and all by whistling really loudly during inopportune quiet moments. Even though I haven’t paid for a ticket, it’s still teeth-grindingly obnoxious behaviour. But anyone turning around to glare at him is just met with the sight of him leaning back on his elbows against the bar relishing the attention he’s getting. Maybe he’s on the guest list as well, but even still, I just don’t understand people who go to gigs to pay no attention to the band and talk loudly throughout, with no consideration of anyone else. This guy just couldn’t care less: I mark him down as someone who probably works in the music industry.
When Skinny Love is played fairly early on in the set, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many people rush to get their camera phones out of their pockets and bags. Even people stood at the bar have their phones out and are trying to film the onstage action though the small open window in the wall between the bar and the main room, even though there’s so many people in between that you can barely even make out the top of Justin Vernon’s head even when you stand on tip toes. It’s just a complete waste of time, I just continually fail to comprehend why people even bother.
For the times when it is possible (or as possible as it gets) to block out the inattentive crowd and watch the show, it’s similar to last time but even more so, with a nine-piece band this time compared to the five-piece last time. There’s so much more power in the live performance than on either of his two albums. At times it’s verging on Spiritualized’s ‘Ladies & Gentlemen…’ in terms of the space rock, free jazz noise, a lot different to the fairly derivative acoustic-based folk of his albums. Having only bought the second, eponymously-named album recently (as it was going cheap), it’s another disappointment to go with his first album. Listening to it, it’s hard to fathom just why it came out so highly in last year’s Best Albums lists. Disappointingly, despite the live versions surpassing the recorded versions, he does manage to find a space in tonight’s setlist to include my least favourite song from the new album, the closer Beth/Rest, which just sounds like something horrible from the mid-1980s and which doesn’t improve when played live.
Although the dreadlocked guy at the bar is by far and away the worst, he’s not the only one and it’s one of those gigs – yet another one of those gigs – where it’s hard to enjoy the band thanks to the annoying crowd.