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Bon Iver @ Hollywood Forever Cemetery 09/27/09
Wrapped in a thick blanket of Sunday morning fog, Hollywood Forever Cemetery looked magical. In the soft darkness, palms trees and graves emerged on either side of the path, and there was a miraculous quiet that hovered over the cemetery. And then out of the gloom...a beacon of light. No, not the stage, the coffee vendor! Some enterprising folks had thought to put up a stand selling coffee and treats to the bleary eyed masses, which had a huge line trailing behind it of desperate people with cash already in their outstretched hands. Caffeine addiction is no joke.
Just past the stand, we began to hear chanting. Turning the corner, we came across the largest slumber party I'd ever seen. A whole field of people lying on blankets and sleeping bags staring at eight Buddhist monks resplendent in orange who knelt in front of a row of candles and were blessing the morning. (I mean, I assume. They may have been just projecting their coffee orders.)
The cemetery doors opened at midnight to let the hardcore fans and those without alarm clocks pour in for the pleasure of a graveside sleepover. There were kids in mini skirts who came straight from clubbing, and those who were fully armed with quilts, wine, and pillows. Entertainment was provided all evening, but it was a very mellow party. Bon Iver DJed two sets between showings of Bottle Rocket and Planet Earth. Hardly the debauched cemetery gathering one would usually picture at a cemetery at midnight, but there you are.
It was so dark and foggy when we got there, my photographer and I had a hard time finding the stage. What kind of concert is it where you can't find the stage? At first we thought it was where the monks were perched, and got all set up. Then at six exactly, directly to our left a glowing platform appeared from out of the gloom and Bon Iver took the stage. It was as if the crowd had conjured him up through sheer willpower. Either that or we were all having a marvelous synchronized hallucination.
Perhaps it was due to the early hour, perhaps it was due to the fact that most people were warmly, snuggled next to their loved ones, but for some reason everybody remained seated throughout the whole set. It was much more satisfying to lie on one's back and watch the mists dissipate in the morning air as the sky changed from orange, to purple, to blue, then to actually get up and watch Bon Iver play. Within the first few notes of the Brian Eno-esque intro that Justin Vernon played with we instantly knew that this was a show that we would brag about years from now saying, "Oh yeah, I was at the cemetery."
Vernon acknowledged the majesty of the show almost immediately. He greeted us with a sunny, "Good morning, y'all. Thank you for being here...like...woah. This has got to be the weirdest thing any of us have done." The setting fit perfectly for Vernon's dreamlike work. Each song seemingly complimenting the ever changing sky. From the dark purple of "Lump Sum" to the orange of "Skinny Love" and finally the glorious white of "Blood Bank." Even the tweeting of the birds seemed to be picked out to highlight the twinkling of the keyboards.
The set was short, but then again so is Bon Iver's repertoire. His debut LP which he wrote in the wilds of Wisconsin after a terrible break up, For Emma, Forever Ago, came out just last year. But for only having about an hour and a half worth of material, it was pretty darn impressive. Touring buddies Megafaun jumped on stage for an a charming a cappella bluegrass number. Although the sky had brightened at the finale, it seemed nobody was up for the obligatory sing a long chorus on "Wolves." There were some half-hearted sleepy attempts, but nothing like that song deserved, which was to be expected. It was ungodly early.