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Live review: Bon Iver at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery

In the twilight hours, that liminal space between sunset and sunrise, the eyes and ears are prone to trickery. The imagination takes over; hazy objects resemble ghosts, and faraway sounds evoke werewolves. But on the precipice of Sunday morning, amid Hollywood Forever Cemetery’s tombstones and mausoleums, the misty fog and leaning palm trees, Bon Iver provided an ethereal soundtrack to sunrise.

It was dreamlike as indie folkster and Wisconsonite Justin Vernon walked onstage with his band, Bon Iver, around 6 a.m. It was almost completely dark when the band opened with Brian Eno-esque layers of sound — their guitars and beards bathed in an icy hue from the blue stage lights — and awakened the slumbering (and some still partying) masses sprawled across the lawn. “We’ve never done anything this weird before,” Vernon said, between the slow-burning stomps and sweet falsetto acoustic solos from Bon Iver’s 2008 album, "For Emma, Forever Ago."

Bon Iver’s performance capped off six hours of events curated by the band, including Vernon’s handpicked music (a play list ranging from Dirty Projectors to Sam Cooke) and films ("Bottle Rocket" and "Planet Earth"). The audience began to arrive around midnight, the witching hour, with blankets, picnic baskets and wine in hand. Some young women, apparently straight from the club, stumbled across the damp lawn in heels and miniskirts, and Vernon-styled bearded guys in T-shirts roamed from blanket to blanket, searching for their own picnic crews. By 4 a.m., much of the commotion had ceased and the huge quilt of mismatched blankets had become an outdoor slumber party. After a quick nap*, the wake-up call began with a beam of floodlights cutting through the fog, and the droning sounds of Buddhist monks blessing the stage and the audience with guttural chants.
The crowd was captivated, showing a solemn reverence as the band become more illuminated as the sun crept over the horizon. Details hidden in darkness were now revealed; the saw-toothed roof of the adjacent Paramount studios became Bon Iver’s backdrop, and audience members began to recognize friends sitting right next to them, who they couldn’t see just an hour earlier**.

Each song captured a distinct moment in the spectrum of dawn. The sky was faded purple during the swaying, sing-along “Skinny Love”; it was peach when Vernon sang the heart-wrenching croons of “Re: Stacks.” By the time Vernon strummed the lonesome, reverbed-out chords of the show-closing “Wolves,” after a set shared with friends-in-folk Megafaun, the haze overhead had shifted from a yolky yellow to concrete gray.

Then there was silence, as the fog burned away and people in the crowd rubbed their eyes from the sunlight. No tweet, text or photo could replicate the feeling of a cemetery at daybreak.

The night didn’t move; it floated. And they walked out past obelisks and funeral gardens, dazed like awakening from a dream.

-- Drew Tewksbury

*Some people were unaffected by the wake-up chants. One young lady snored loudly throughout Bon Iver’s set, unfazed by her friends poking at her ribs.

**This Pop & Hiss correspondent was sitting next to actor Devon Gummersall — a.k.a. Brian Krakow from the 1990s teen ennui-drama, "My So-Called Life."

 
Comments () | Archives (2)

Dude. You sat next to my man Brian Krakow. Him and I go way, way back.

Lovely. Thank you.


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