Bon Iver played a sold out show at the Taft last Sunday on an encore round of touring after unprecedented critical and fan acclaim for their transcendental 2016 release “22, A Million.”
The band earned acclaim not only for the album itself but for the next level musicianship and production of the accompanying live performances that followed.
My intent was to do a review, but in all honesty, it would be impossible due to my own personal bias. Which, it is likely just about any music appreciator would have had by the time the last song stopped and the house lights came on, revealing an ocean of blissed-out friends who were total strangers only hours prior to the experience.
There is a cult following here, a real love between the performer and the audience which seems to come from a deeper current.
The barrage of iconographic symbols on the album art is, admittedly, simply for aesthetic and hold no meaning on their own, though the entire album both lyrically and sonically seems to be a furious search for personal truth.
We live in a world completely unimaginable from that of a couple hundred years ago, so it stands to reason that our old archetypes and myths might need a facelift or an upgrade around this time.
As society evolves into either oblivion or a golden age of eco-friendly science and empathy, the old theological and philosophical pants are going to stretch until we straight up need a new style altogether. Or a new tailor.
So there on the stage before me, masters of their crafts pouring their hearts and bodies into their work, with an astonishingly beautiful and complex light display, a few things came to mind.
First, of all things, I thought of Mickey Mouse.
Not “Steamboat Willie” Mickey, but Mickey from “Fantasia.” You know, the original one from 1940. That Mickey.
Standing on the safety of his rock, wizard hat donned, fearlessly commanding the elements with his wand. Justin Vernon and company, I realized, are magicians of sound.
Then I was reminded of Kurt Vonnegut stressing the importance of theater for the sake of a shared emotional human experience. A rare social state of vulnerability in which we can easily look around and see common ground in the faces of the crowd to which we belong.
I was also reminded of Father John Misty’s line “Joseph Campbell and the Rolling Stones couldn’t write me a myth. So I had to write my own.”
And, further down that rabbit hole, Neil Gaiman’s story “American Gods” in which the old gods are at war with the new, ie: Internet, Media, Oil, etc. The band’s music seamlessly blending the organic and acoustic instrumentation with the glitch-addled choking circuits of today.
I may be out on a thin branch with some readers here, but I think we need to keep our ideas of what is mysterious and magical fresh and up to date, and thus relatable. As our culture changes and grows, so must our self-identifying ideas on an archetypal, but also human level.
The old male role models of brute strength and the conquistador’s spirit are, thankfully, taking a beating as of late (and it’s about time). It’s up to the audience to embrace this emerging model of a more sensitive, self-aware and compassionate male myth.
As we get older we are going to keep losing our David Bowies and Princes and it is our job to vote for the icons our children will remember. This is America, after all.
Vote with your iTunes purchases and your shares. Vote at the gas pump, the poles and the grocery. Vote at the theater. And vote when an artist you appreciate comes to our town. You just might be witnessing cultural history.
Or even helping make a new, better myth.