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On Dec. 4, just before Bon Iver took the stage at Pioneer Works, an old ironworks warehouse turned nonprofit arts and culture space, these prophetic words from Union Army officer Sullivan Ballou echoed off the Civil War-era brick walls:
"Sarah, my love for you is deathless, it seems to bind me to you with mighty cables that nothing but Omnipotence could break; and yet my love of Country comes over me like a strong wind and bears me irresistibly on with all these chains to the battlefield."
A week after writing those lines, Ballou was mortally wounded, dying for a cause in which he firmly believed.
At first, these words struck me as disconnected from the evening's music. Bon Iver's new record, 22, A Million, feels so distant from the Civil War and the words of Sullivan Ballou. But there's a very real kinship between the letter and this band. Believing in what you do is essential to Justin Vernon and the music he creates for Bon Iver, and impermanence and duality are prevailing themes of this album.
So, here in Brooklyn, at Pioneer Works, a space Vernon believes in and actively assists as a member of the Advisory Board, he and his team created a very special evening — a transcendent night of voices masked, faces hidden in darkness and a performance aimed at soul-searching and purpose over pop and stardom.
This music was performed by a powerful big band, with two drummers and a sax ensemble backing upfront processed sounds, like vocal alterations and sampling, alongside electric and acoustic guitars. It was a visionary performance, fit perfectly to brilliant lighting and sound, seemingly executed down to fine detail by a guy in a Tipitina's T-shirt, loose pants and high-tops: unassuming, seemingly uncaring, but most certainly in control.
Justin Vernon: vocals, guitar, keys, processing; Andrew Fitzpatrick: guitar, processing, vocals; Michael Lewis: bass, synth-bass, saxophone, vocals; Sean Carey: drums, keys, vocals; Matt McCaughan: drums, vocals; Nelson Devereaux: saxophone; Stephanie Wieseler: saxophone; Dustin Laurenzi: saxophone; Chris Thompson: saxophone; Cole Pulice: saxophone.
Michael Brown: production designer; Chris Messina: studio/stage manager.
Director: Colin Marshall; Producers: Colin Marshall, Benjamin Naddaff-Hafrey; Executive Producer: Anya Grundmann; Audio Engineer: Xandy Whitesel (from the Bon Iver crew); Technical Director: Josh Rogosin; Editors: Nickolai Hammar, Cam Robert; Videographers: Nicole Conflenti, Kara Frame, Nickolai Hammar, Claire O'Neill, Chris Parks, Cam Robert, Maia Stern. Special Thanks: Pioneer Works, The Bowery Presents, Jagjaguwar, Middle West, Shore Fire Media, Bon Iver Band & Crew.
NOTE: The audio provided to NPR for "10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⚄ ⚄" includes a brief portion of the audio from a subsequent Pioneer Works concert to correct for a technical error at the Dec. 4 show.
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