Monday, July 27, 2009

Bon Iver at Galway Arts Festival

WENT to see Bon Iver at the Galway Arts Festival last Thursday and left immensely enriched by the whole experience.

I travelled to the city of tribes for several reasons; A to see what kind of a set up they had for the Galway Arts Festival and B because Bon Iver released one the albums of last year and I wanted to see what the gig would be like in the Festival Big Top.

Bon Iver - a deliberate aberration of the French Bon Hiver, meaning "good winter" - is essentially a vehicle for singer songwriter Justin Vernon, who locked himself in a cabin in Wisconsin for a time and recorded the album in its entireity.

The superbly winsome, profoundly affecting, music crawling under your skin and refusing to leave-album was Forever Emma, Forever Ago, a collection of lo-fi musings that don't seem suited to such an arena as a large tent on the banks of the river corrib.

Having seen Bon Iver in National Stadium late last year I knew that Vernon and co (guitarist Mike Noyce, Sean Carey, and Matthew McCaughan) were capable of producing a spell-binding gig in intimate surroundings, but I feared for their ability to keep a couple of thousand people under their spell in a large tent.

A set like this; nay, music like this, should not work in such a setting, but - and it is testament to Vernon's songwriting ability - boy does it on this occasion, a rapt crowd alternating between singing along with every line to falling silent at just the right time, leaving the band to do their thing.

And do they. In this setting Vernon fashions something new with his material, a dual drumming set-up, coupled with birthday boy (just 22!) Noyce's charged guitar lines and Vernon's ragged acoustic guitar playing giving the songs a new life.

Opening with Flume, it is clear that the gig is going to be something special, the steady throb of Lump Sum following quickly behind. A spirited Creature Fear comes next, but it is Skinny Love that sets the mood, the tent nearly lifting off with the sing-along that transpires.

Babys from the Blood Bank EP sees Vernon introduce an electric piano, his rising chorus of 'multiply' echoing through the night air.

In fact, it is Vernon's incredible falsetto vocal that drags this rustic sound into the realm of other-wordly.

By now the rain is falling outside and it feels akin being in a mobile home while the rain lashes off the roof, curiously cosy in a large and draughty tent. Blood Bank itself is a triumph, as is the epic Re: Stacks. For Emma closes the set on a melancholic note that merely serves to whip the crowd into a frenzy, screaming for more.

They justly oblige, the encore of The Wolves (Act I and II) predicated with Vernon requesting the crowd to sing the line "what might have been lost" repeatedly, before howling at the moon like a rabid, well, wolf. Which we all proceed to do, with much delight and animation.

Someway through the set, Vernon reveals he chose to play his only Irish show of the year in Galway because he worked in a mobile phone shop on Shop Street some 8 years ago. He bemoans the lack of a former fast food outlet, but regardless of his reasons for choosing the Galway Arts Festival, his appearance represents something of a coup for the organisers.

Likewise, the return of David Gray, the effortless cool of Femi Kuti and the final night of Primal Scream, Spiritualised and David Holmes! All of this, plus the many, many events taking place in Galway over a two week period saw the GAF pull in €25million with an estimated 180,000 festival goers enjoying a massive programme of theatre, music, literature and comedy at dozens of venues across the city.

The bottom line is, in the aftermath of An Bord Snip's report, which showed little interest in arts and culture events, that these things bring people - and more importantly - money to the city brave enough to stage them!

We need a Limerick Arts Festival asap - combining the incredible resources we have here with a can-do attitude that may help the city recover from the verges of the doldrums.


Isambard Chalky Brunel said...

You filthy liar, claiming you travelled to Galway for artistic and cultural reasons.

You were there for the gatt, and the gatt alone.

Alan Owens said...

All of the above reasons applied!