LIVE REVIEW: Bon Iver and Other Lives @ The Greek Theater, Berkeley 9/22/2011

September 27. 2011 | By Mayumi Okamoto

Certain bands are meant to be enjoyed in certain venues. The Greek Theater at the University of California, Berkeley campus is an impressive outdoor amphitheater modeled after the ancient Greek theater, Epidaurus. The theater, which is quietly nestled into the Berkeley hillside, provided the perfect backdrop for the sold-out show of Other Lives and Bon Iver. It is a rarity to witness not one, but two exemplary and sonically compatible bands in such a picturesque venue. For the 8,500 people in attendance, Thursday’s show was one for the books.

Other Lives
photos courtesy of Joseph Schell @ SFWeekly

Touring for their recently released album, Tamer Animals, Oklahoma-based Other Lives took to the stage just as the sun began to set. This five-piece band is all about finessed textured sounds created through collective orchestration and symphonic melodies rather than just pounding the hell out of whatever is in front of them. The overwhelmingly beautiful sound emanating from the stage felt a bit like watching a mini-orchestra perform with Jesse Tabish taking the lead as the conductor.

Even the band’s on-stage set up, with the violin and cello flanking Tabish to his right and the percussion section with the kit and tympani drums surrounding Tabish on the left, visually impressed this reference into the mind. Though Tabish delivered his vocals on the title track “Tamer Animals” in a slightly colorless manner, his vocals added an additional layer to the percussion section by employing a syncopated rhythm. The integrated vocals allowed for the band’s musicianship to take center stage and Other Lives quietly built up each song to the apex where it all just erupted into lavish display of raw emotion. Playing before their largest crowd to date, Other Lives‘ short opening performance undoubtedly made the right first impression on the Bay Area.

Bon Iver
photos courtesy of Joseph Schell @ SFWeekly

Bon Iver is best enjoyed al fresco. Whether spawned by Justin Vernon’s Eau Claire roots or pictorial landscapes appearing on album artwork, the melding of Bon Iver with the mild night air in Berkeley was pitch perfect. For Vernon, playing at the Greek Theater before a sold-out crowd was a feat that did not go without recognition.

Bon Iver
photos courtesy of Joseph Schell @ SFWeekly

The nine-piece band spread themselves out across the stage and as three spotlights with tree branch silhouettes lit up the stage floor, Vernon’s delicate guitar riffs on “Perth” effortlessly opened the set. Taking in Bon Iver in person is a vastly different sensorial experience than passively listening to the band on your iPod due to the fuller sound provided by a second set of drums and a three-person brass section. The album version of “Creature Fear” on For Emma, Forever Ago is a relatively reserved track of three minutes. On Thursday night, when performed by a nine-piece band, the bellowing horns and kick drums split the song at its seams during the chorus transforming it into one of the more boisterous moments of the show. The additional drum kit also made a huge difference in the grounding and rhythm of “Flume,” “Tower,” and “The Wolves (Act I and II).”

Bon Iver
photos courtesy of Joseph Schell @ SFWeekly

Throughout the set, Vernon engaged the audience with his charming personality and provided moments of levity stating, “this next song is about the power struggle within the band.” Something about Vernon quietly commands respect. While some singer/songwriters are escapists, Vernon is a realist and everything about Bon Iver‘s performance held the audience in the moment reflecting inward with thoughts about the entrancing nature Vernon’s falsetto. One of the most lovely moments of the evening found Vernon seated solo on stage in an acoustic performance of “Re: Stacks.”

Bon Iver
photos courtesy of Joseph Schell @ SFWeekly

In that six minutes, Vernon brought a noteworthy stillness and silence to a crowd of 8,500 people where all you could hear was the humming of the on-stage smoke machine and the sighs and heavy exhales of the people seated beside you. Regardless of whether or not you understand the appeal of Bon Iver or the acclaim garnered by the band’s most recent self-titled album, witnessing those moments was an objectively impressive thing to behold.

Bon Iver
photos courtesy of Joseph Schell @ SFWeekly

Anyone can have the right crowd jumping around and screaming, but being able to emotionally capture a large audience and put thousands of people into submission for an hour and a half demonstrated the adoration and respect in the air that Thursday evening.

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