April 21, 2012
Better than...trying to dance off your sunburn.
Flickering strands of glowing balloons swayed gently over the polo fields as the crowd drew in for Bon Iver's set on the main stage yesterday evening. Sunburnt and spent, these half-naked revelers came to be calmed by Justin Vernon's falsetto after a long hard day of dancing. It's not easy frolicking in 100 degree temperatures all day in nothing but gauzy underclothes and dusty flip flops, Fortunately, then, Bon Iver was just the ticket. A huge crowd sprawled out on the grass studded with cigarette butts, water bottles, and the occasional pile of god-knows-what under a ceiling of search lights.
In his first Coachella performance under the guise of Bon Iver (and not singing back up for Kanye West), Justin Vernon looked confident. Surrounded by a flood of mini lamp posts that glowed deep amber, and his giant band behind him, he looked perfectly at ease. As he should be; the man has earned a little swagger after winning a Grammy and touring heavily for the past three years.
The set was a mix of his first album about breakups past, For Emma, Forever Ago, and his second self-titled (and much more polished) affair. Jumping from hope to heartbreak to falling in love at a blood bank (of all places), Vernon's storytelling glistened in the balmy night air. Tattooed ladies with parasol umbrellas perched on their fingertips swayed and danced to "Skinny Love" and "Perth" while tiny children in their pastel summer shorts ran circles around their parents 'blankets.
Vernon's sweet falsetto paired beautifully with the horn section like tango partners, each one taking turns with the lead, dictating where the song would go. Occasionally during great swells of emotion, guitars would break through melody with authority, stomping everything in their way, and stealing the spotlight. So much so that we couldn't help wondering if there's a rock album in Bon Iver's future.