La Blogothèque

Bon Iver

When we launched the idea of a Soirée de Poche, it still felt like a distant dream. Three weeks later, there we were, in a doorway waiting with Bon Iver, while it rained. We were about to witness firsthand acoustic music, a cappella, in Montmartre.

As is often the case with the Blogothèque, this event came about spontaneously, just like that, mostly cause we liked the artist. We had simply suggested that Bon Iver play a private show for us, a little concert in an apartment. We didn’t really know if it would actually happen until we found ourselves, Nora and I, in a little courtyard in Paris, in early May. Justin Vernon, founding member of Bon Iver was being interviewed. At the end of the interview, we reminded him of our idea and he told us that he loved the concept, that his music was made to be played intimately in front of  small audiences, and that he was very much looking forward to it.

We were looking forward to it too. But my god, the organisation hadn’t been easy. Prospective dates had clashed with concerts, and French television station Canal+ had stolen the original date from us. However, with a bit of faith, we found ourselves, that rainy Monday, under the porch of a building in Abbesses, with Justin, Sean, Mike and their tour manager, waiting for the concierge to come and give us the keys to the apartment.

The living room was emptied for the event, and we spent an hour hanging out with Bon Iver pondering the best way in which to do things, before deciding upon going completely acoustic. They had brought with them their melodica and glockenspiel, and there was also the toy piano belonging to Ethel, our host’s young daughter. Justin spoke of walking around amongst the audience. Then Vincent Moon arrived and we left him alone with the group in the apartment. We had to buy beer.

The time passed by quickly and there were already around thirty people in the courtyard when we came back from our the beer mission. We couldn’t all head upstairs yet, everything wasn’t ready. Moon and Bon Iver finished recording Flume in Ethel’s bedroom for one of our Take-Away Shows, and in the end the group came to us. descending upon us unexpectedly. They stood in front of the door to the building and hit us with a raw version of one of their songs. A divine surprise.

It is hard to convey the magic of this evening. A magic certainly linked with the intimacy and the acoustics of the performance, but also the audience response. Between each song, Justin took a few minutes to speak to us, to tell us what a pleasure it was for them to be with us, in our little gathering.

After having started on the balcony, playing Flume, they asked us to crowd around them closer still. The sun was setting, the streets were noisy, but we didn’t care. Justin reaffirmed that this was exactly how he wanted his songs to be played. And this was exactly what we wanted to hear.

To avoid missing anything, Vincent Moon’s camera stayed permanently switched on. It’s a good job it did, as each song was an absolute gem. Bon Iver also gave us two covers – Olive Hearts by Bowerbirds and another by John Prine. Understandably, Moon didn’t want to just film, but really appreciate, to close his eyes and absorb the music. And so, the camera was passed around the room from hand to hand before Vincent reclaimed it to slowly navigate his way through the seated audience during Wolves.

To give you a more accurate representation of the evening, we should have left a camera to capture the fading light and the happy addition of candles. When Sean and Mike abandoned their chairs to let Justin start off Skinny Love, it was pitch black.

After the concert there were congratulations and a few spliffs. Later on, the talented Liz Green joined us and we sang our way through the streets. We’re going to save this footage for ourselves, keep it nice and warm, along with the belief that we’ll organise other evenings like this one. Thank you, Bon Iver. And thank you to all that were there.