bon iver Tag

Van Etten wows, War on Drugs channel Springsteen live in Portland

It doesn’t hurt when Bon Iver covers you, The National produce you, SXSW adores you, and hip websites anoint you the latest musical “it” girl.

That being said, Sharon Van Etten – touring on the strength of her latest, Tramp, didn’t disappoint a packed house at The Aladdin. After a solid set from Philadelphia’s The War on Drugs (channeling early Springsteen, and a self-professed love of The Waterboys – who they covered in their encore), Van Etten and her talented supporting cast seemed right at home in the intimate confines of The Aladdin.

Though Van Etten was the clear attraction, a reasonable contingent of folks were also on hand to support the (arguably) equally talented Heather Woods Broderick, who provided flawless harmony vocals, keyboards, and guitar. Broderick (affectionately nicknamed “Bro-Derek” by Van Etten during their tour) is a Portlander, and Smells Like Pop has witnessed her talent first hand as a member of Horse Feathers (along with her brother, Peter Broderick).

The band fleshed out the subtle and nuanced dynamics of Tramp – taking an already solid record and bringing it lovingly to life. Guitarist Doug Keith captured the gothic-twang necessary to make “Give Out” shine, while drummer Zeke Hutchins allowed the power and menace of “Serpents” to be showcased.

With her talent on an upward trajectory, hopefully the young Van Etten won’t get pitchforked over for the next inevitable find.

Midwest “neo-soul” shines at Portland venue

What’s the difference between folk music and the sounds that Bon Iver produced at Holocene recently? I pondered that as I reveled in the beautiful soundtrack to an introspective life that the band (whose name is a play off of what Francophiles and others know translates to “good winter”) reproduced.

I am not a big fan of the watered-down stuff that passes as folk (the stuff you hear in Starbucks, generally); Justin Vernon’s music captures the human experience as only recording in isolated places – like his father’s Wisconsin hunting cabin – can. But it is music also informed by modern anxieties. Vernon himself refers to his music as “neo-soul”.

So, it was no surprise to learn mid-set that Vernon has a punk-pop band called Michael Jordan, as well. Hearing the edge of Bon Iver’s music emphasized in their live set reminded me of when I saw Iron & Wine in town and witnessed Sam Beam and Co. growl, and not ironically cover New Order. It’s the stuff of early Dylan, where traditional sounds were often the shell of a more disturbing sonic narrative.

But it’s the heartache in Vernon’s voice which is the difference (which, especially live, reminded of a cross between Jeff Buckley’s falsetto and the aforementioned Beam’s raspy world-weariness). Bon Iver found new dynamics in its already subtle fledgling debut For Emma, Forever Ago. When Vernon asked the Holocene crowd to sing along to the refrain from “The Wolves (Act I and II)“, nervous looks abounded. The song ended up becoming a magic moment that somehow produced harmony from a group often more concerned with appearing to be coolly indifferent.

Though For Emma is not a perfect album, it is an early front-runner for my record of the year. In these troubled times, this album reflects my hope that a talented guy from the Midwest might bring a good winter.

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