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Bon Iver moves Jakarta crowd in captivating performance

Devina Heriyanto
Devina Heriyanto

The Jakarta Post

Jakarta  /  Mon, January 20, 2020  /  05:33 pm
Bon Iver moves Jakarta crowd in captivating performance

American band Bon Iver performs at Tennis Indoor Stadium Senayan, Jakarta, on Jan. 19. (Courtesy of/Ismaya Live)

Perth, Calgary, Minnesota. These are not just the names of cities and a state; they are the titles of some of Bon Iver's beloved hits. There is no Jakarta, but at least on Sunday, Bon Iver finally made its debut in the capital city, quenching the thirst of many of its followers.

"I know you guys have been waiting a long time for this," said frontman Justin Vernon, addressing the crowd at Tennis Indoor Stadium Senayan, Central Jakarta.

The concert was not explosive. If anything, at the beginning, it was quiet by Jakarta's standards. It was as if the music was an organic thing, slowly growing as its beats captured the listeners in a trance, before it finally reached a crescendo, taking the lead and never losing its grip on the crowd in an almost two-hour concert.

In nearly every YouTube video showing a live performance of an artist, there is at least one comment that compliments the artist for "sounding exactly the same as the record". However, Bon Iver would perhaps not dignify the statement as almost every song at its shows sound different from its records: They are louder, bigger, wilder and more alive, as if pulsating with energy from the crowd.

At last night's show, Bon Iver rarely interacted with the crowd, except for a few times when Vernon introduced the band members and encouraged the crowd to check out their partner organization, Hollaback! Jakarta. "They are working on women's rights, and we need that," Vernon said, using expletives freely, as the show was rated 18+.

"We need more love," he said to the crowd, "When people are in pain, they become worthless, inhumane. People become hateful because of the pain."

If it sounded like a sermon, it’s probably because the whole experience felt almost spiritual. The crowd was mostly silent during each song, only erupting into claps and whistles after each piece was performed.

"I can hear you're crying," Vernon howled during "Naeem", assuring the crowd that he too felt their pain. He too is no stranger to pain, as according to the much-fabled genesis of Bon Iver's first album released in 2008, it was a broken heart that led him to create For Emma, Forever Ago.

With four albums under its belt, Bon Iver's set list for the concert was a mix of everything. The songs varied from ballads from its first album to the more experimental sounds from the 2016 album 22, A Million. In the intervals between songs, the band members constantly changed their instruments for the next performance, showing range.

Although Bon Iver is officially on tour to promote its fourth album, i,i (pronounced “I comma I”), it's the songs from its older albums that garnered the biggest reactions from the crowd.

As other international artists have mentioned, when the crowd in Jakarta sings, it is a harmonious uproar that has a life of its own. "Hey, Ma", a song from i,i, was met with a thunderous reception. When Vernon, alone on the stage with all the lights focusing on his figure, began picking his guitar to the opening of "Skinny Love", the crowd almost erupted.

A shot of the audience at the Bon Iver concert in Jakarta.A shot of the audience at the Bon Iver concert in Jakarta. (Courtesy of/Ismaya Live)

Other songs were met with a respectful, almost solemn reaction. It was jarring to see how Bon Iver, each member confined to their instruments and spots on the stage, was able to dominate thousands of people through rhythm and melody. If the atmosphere was quiet, it was because the music had demanded that.

"There was no need for lyrics as the music itself spoke to us," said Claudia Sieloy, a concertgoer, commenting on the unusual stillness of the crowd.

If the music spoke, then the visuals amplified Bon Iver's dominance over the audience. In a venue of almost total darkness, the stage lighting was mesmerizing. The lights moved in sync with the music. During "Holocene", the stage was drenched in blue – an additional splash of melancholy to the devastatingly beautiful song. At one point, the lights turned red, cueing that, lo and behold, the next song would be "Blood Bank". At times when the music was in full blast, the stage was almost too blinding.

After the show, the band left and the stage lights went off. The crowd shouted to the darkness that they wanted more. Ask, and it shall be given, says the unwritten rule of music concerts. Bon Iver returned for an encore, satisfying the crowd once more.

In the final song, Vernon stood alone with his guitar, facing the crowd under a white spotlight and against the darkness. He played a song from For Emma, "re: Stacks".

"This is not the sound of a new man," he sang, as if saying that after all these years and massive popularity, he was still the same person who created music in a cabin in the woods years ago. And yet there he was; in a city thousands of miles away from his hometown, a sheer testament that while his music was first born out of solitude, it can command and unite all individuals in a crowd at night, transcending words and borders.

After the last note died down, Vernon bowed and thanked the crowd. The stage went dark and the spell was broken. One by one, each audience member left the venue. And probably, at once, they knew that they had witnessed something magnificent. (wng)

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