Bon Iver's King's Theatre Show Transcended the Concert Experience

Bon Iver's King's Theatre Show Transcended the Concert Experience

The artist put on a performance not soon to be forgotten.

The artist put on a performance not soon to be forgotten.

Text: Ian David Monroe

In the last two weeks, Justin Vernon, aka the Grammy Award-winning Bon Iver, has played nine sold out shows throughout New York City to promote his new album, 22, A Million. With turnouts like that, it's a wonder the singer didn't opt instead to condense them all into one show at Madison Square Garden. The likely reason is that Vernon's quiet reflective tracks aren't suitable for such a space, and better experienced with as much intimacy as possible.

Monday and Tuesday night, he took up residence at King's Theatre in Flatbush, far and away from Manhattan and Williamsburg, where New Yorkers are used to seeing the music industry's buzziest perform. The trek though didn't stop fans from turning out in droves.

In terms of decor, King's Theatre, a converted movie palace built in 1929, stood in stark contrast to Vernon's earlier shows at the warehouse-like gallery and performance space Pioneer Works (where he serves on the advisory board). The theater's gilded vaulted ceiling and rows of pews immediately set the tone of something more than a concert (like Hammerstein Ballroom would have) and something other than art (like at Pioneer Works). It felt like an experience of worship, except void of religion—much like the album itself. The flashing symbols on the backdrop leant further to the feeling of something ritualistic.

Vernon, a well-known industry recluse, would've bucked any idolatry, though. In only one of three moments of speaking to the crowd, Vernon made sure to say that he thought the opening act was better than him, and "better than any of you." He also shut down any hope of an encore, stating that he preferred one strong performance over the contrived ceremony of the standard show finale.

Further shrugging off expectations, the singer skipped his two most well-known tracks—"Skinny Love" and "Holocene"—and, instead, performed the entirety of 22, A Million. From his eponymous, award-winning album, Vernon only performed "Beth/Rest" and "Perth."

After one track, Vernon thanked the audience profusely for their support of his 2 A Billion initiative, a joint campaign with The New York Women’s Foundation aimed at bringing awareness to domestic abuse and support to its victims. Before show time, electronic monitors directed fans to text a number to donate money. This would be the only time during the show that the use of phones was encouraged—otherwise, fans kept theirs tucked away, focused on living in the moment.

A Bon Iver concert is less an event to document, and more an experience, one that forces you to be both in the moment and meditative. Vernon, in that sense, is not a musician, but a guide, and in his music, there is plenty to be found.

Credits: Cover Image: Photography Allyson Lupovich

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