Sunday, July 31, 2011

For Karen, Forever Ago

I bought my ticket for the Bon Iver show the second week in May, which meant I had to wait nearly three months for it.

At the time, the opening band was an unknown entity, so I felt doubly lucky when it was announced that the Rosebuds would open.

I'm a huge fan of the Raleigh band, having seen them in May 2008 when they opened for British Sea Power in Charlottesville. I fell in love with them that night.

As I told a friend today, I'd have gone to the show tonight if it had just been them.

But of course, it wasn't; the biggest draw was Bon Iver, made all the more significant because Richmond's own Reggie Pace is a member of the band these days.

When I arrived, the crowd was already shoulder to shoulder and the Rosebuds weren't coming on for another 45 minutes. That's highly unusual.

Just as rare was the temperature inside the National. I've been to shows in July there and about froze to death because of the air conditioning.

Tonight was nothing like that. If someone bumped into you, it was sticky. Body heat radiated off of everyone.

A friend of a friend recognized me as soon as I took up my usual post in front of the sound booth. She, too, was a big Rosebuds fan so I was happy to meet a kindred soul.

There's no one genre that the Rosebuds fit neatly into because their sound varies from folk to full on rock and a lot in between.

Like countless bands before them, the relationship between the two principals (who were once married but are no longer) makes for great songwriting fodder.

Tonight's crowd was either eager to be entertained or smart enough to appreciate the talent of what they were seeing, but seemed to give the Rosebuds the audience they deserved.

In a particularly satisfying Rosebuds moment, a very tall couple moved directly in front of me just before the band started. 

But when they began putting their heads together and talking to each other non-stop, a girl behind me yelled "Shut up!" at them and they soon moved.

She was my hero

But when it came down to it, most people were there for Bon Iver. From the moment the band took the stage, the energy in the room was palpable.

Having Reggie up there, such a familiar presence in Richmond with his tireless performing out with No BS, Glows in the Dark, and FTBB, made for an electricity in the room.

Justin Vernon noticed it, acknowledging the crowd throughout for their enthusiasm.

A couple of people bordered on obnoxious; a guy who tried to start chants of "RVA!" and a girl who kept shouting, "I love you, Justin."

After  awhile, the crowd began telling them to shush.

Some of the fans who prefer the band's first album "For Emma, Forever Ago" have a problem with the new self-titled album being far less spare and more lushly produced.

For them, the large touring band behind Vernon gave additional weight to many originally-simpler songs. Percussion played a major role in the show (drummer nirvana even), as did horns, and Reggie did both.

That said, some of the most spare songs retained that quality with just Justin and his guitar and a surprisingly hushed crowd.

I refuse to pick a favorite album. I fell in love with "For Emma, Forever Ago" back in 2008 when I was living another life. It was beautiful; his voice and earnestness captured me. I wore that CD out.

But that album, written after Justin lost his job, got dumped and had mono resonated in a different way with me once I experienced all that (substituting pneumonia for mono) myself a few months later.

The new album sounds fuller and is obviously the work of a man in a much better place. He has a talented girlfriend, his health appears robust and, well, his job is what he was doing tonight.

Nice work if you can get it.

You can't sound heartbroken, sick and upset when you're happy. Nor should you try to.

So I can honestly say I like both the albums equally, unlike a  lot of people, for the different life stages and mindsets they represent.

The band covered Bjork, closed the set with the heartbreaking "For Emma" and came back for an encore that included the crowd favorite "Skinny Love" and a crowd singalong.

Sweaty as the room was, I saw no one leave before the encore was over. Perhaps they were stuck to their neighbors, but that, too, is unusual.

As I was waiting in the endless line to exit the building, I stood next to Bon Iver's sound guy, whom Justin had introduced during the show as a major talent in their sound.

"You must love your job," I said to him.

"It takes a lot out of you," he acknowledged. "But yea."

"I'm sure it gives a lot back," I countered. "That was such an amazing show. But I guess it always is."

"Actually, this was one of the best ever. This was something special tonight," he said smiling.

"Well, it was great for us to see Justin and Reggie," I explained.

Instant reaction. "Reggie is such a sweet guy," he enthused. "And so talented!"

Seems like the rest of the world is discovering that Mr. Can't Stop, Won't Stop Reggie Pace is one in a  million.

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