July 12, 2009

Blinded, I am blindsided :: Bon Iver and The Wheel in Denver last night


I’ve never heard the Ogden Theatre held so tightly under a blanket of silent reverence as it was last night for the Bon Iver show, with Denver’s marvelous The Wheel opening. Some said you could have heard a pin drop at the sold-out show, on one of the most sweltering nights of the summer so far.

There is pure, unfettered, urgent, honest magic in the music of Bon Iver, there is no denying that. For an album that some think of as hushed acoustic woodland grieving, there is also a lot of potential for a live show that rages like a howling river. First off: the man travels with two drummers. That alone is enough to win my heart completely. The songs grow and explode live, and knock you off your feet. Justin excoriates with his guitar freakouts, and pounds on his keys. It’s a cavalcade of something intensely real.


Taking the stage with fluffy longer hair that grows even more majestic when illuminated by golden spotlight from above, Justin sat down and the crowd was immediately silent, waiting. He started the set the same way the album begins, with the opening strums of “Flume”: I am my mother’s only one. It’s enough. Thirty seconds in and we already have a lump in the throat here — that’s one of my absolute favorite lyrics he’s written, for quiet personal reasons. From there, he led into an extended, experimental intro to “Lump Sum,” and as the meandering faded away, the familiar, pulsing melody drew us back and it felt so right.

Flume (Daytrotter version) – Bon Iver
Lump Sum (MOKB/Laundromatinee version) – Bon Iver (via)

After a jawdropping, electrified ending to “Creature Fear,” someone down front with me yelled, “You’re a genius!” to which Justin quickly shot back, “You’re drunk,” as he smiled. But I would agree with gentleman #1 in the audience — it was an exceptional, gorgeous show. I knew what to expect, I’d been exposed to his music live before, and he still blew me away, absolutely.

With only one album and an EP to draw from, Justin laughingly promised as he tuned his guitar between songs, “We’re gonna play all the songs we know tonight, let’s put it that way.” And they did – as well as “Brackett, WI” from the Dark Was The Night compilation, and a Jayhawks cover, among others.

In a moment of humble and unaffected loveliness, the Jayhawks song they covered was “Tampa to Tulsa” (from their 2003 album Rainy Day Music) during the encore, with the band sitting around a single center microphone. Watch what I saw:

The night ended with  the loudest singalong I’ve ever personally been a part of, of “Wolves (Part I and II)”. By that point I was standing in the back near the fresh air and relief from the sweltering heat inside. Usually, the back of the club is where the talkers and chatty drinkers congregate, but as Justin urged us to sing along to “what might have been lost,” I looked around and every single person I could see was singing their heart out into the humid darkness, many with eyes closed. That song crests like a huge wave, and as both drummers pounded their hardest, each beat shot like an electric jolt into my chest.

It was the most beautiful moment I reckon I’ll see in concert for a while, and everything I want to be a part of.


Openers The Wheel were playing to a hometown crowd, but nonetheless got the loudest prolonged-cheer reception I have heard for any local band in a long time. Their intricate, melancholy songs are steeped in goodness and ready for a larger stage. The band is magnetically led by the wry, exceptional voice of frontman Nathaniel Rateliff (Born In The Flood) who in the oddest coincidence that you ever think could sound good, vocally evokes a young and impassioned Neil Diamond minus the glitter. The technicolor songs pack a punch, yet sounded timeless through a symphony of strings, aching harmonica and guitars, piano, intuitive drumming, and vocal harmonies that cut through the venue and held everyone’s attention.

If I were voting for my favorite Denver bands, say, for a local music festival competition, I might put The Wheel in the top 5. Hypothetically. Check these guys out.

Just For Me, But I Thought Of You – The Wheel (I love this so much)
My Hanging Surrender – The Wheel





[all my photos here]


  • Heather, thanks so much for the review. I love how you can put my sentiments to words. The balcony was hushed as well. Re-watching the video of Wolves, made my morning.

    Liz — July 13, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  • You’ve captured the essence of a Bon Iver show perfectly. I just saw him at Sasquatch and even in the context of a music festival, he was mesmerizing. The sing-along during Wolves even drowned out the sound of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs from another stage.

    PS – no one but me seemed to recognize her, but Justin brought out Sharon Whiting (My Brightest Diamond) to sing on Flume. It was beautiful and I’ve been wondering since if its a sign that there’s some collaboration between them. MBD wasn’t playing the festival, so I’m not sure why she was in the middle of Central Washington. Did she make an appearance at your show?

    Brett — July 13, 2009 @ 10:38 am

  • Thanks for such a detailed review. I gather that the Denver show was as fantastic as the Boulder one – equally amazing performance with equally stuffy packed house. While I value bands that have been around forever who play all your favorites over the course of a night, it is equally amazing when a band just has all good songs and plays almost all of those.

    Windfarm — July 13, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

  • Enjoyed the pre-game at Streets, but sure wish I would have been able to follow through with the show. I choose poorly! Thanks for the ernest review that gave me glimpe inside the Ogden that night.

    Rich — July 13, 2009 @ 1:19 pm

  • rich – it was good to see you too! wish you had made it down the street :)

    browneheather — July 13, 2009 @ 1:26 pm

  • Great review Heather, echos many of the sentiments I had when I saw the band several months back. “Wolves” was incredible with the crowd participation, just one of those special moments you can only have at a live show.

    Brett, MBD performed “Flume” with Bon Iver back in May at the Dark Was The Night benefit show in NYC. I filmed it and you can check it out here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xahp7PZLbHw

    Tremags — July 15, 2009 @ 6:32 pm

  • wow. wish i could have made it to this one. thanks for the gorgeous write up and the wolves video. makes up for me missing out, at least a little.

    casey — July 16, 2009 @ 1:53 pm

  • Tampa To Tulsa, what a wonderful song to cover!!

    Kid In The Front Row — July 16, 2009 @ 5:27 pm

  • to stray from the brilliance of Justin Vernon for a moment – The Wheel are amazing.

    Lee — July 17, 2009 @ 4:50 pm

  • The Wheel are, absolutely – AMAZING.

    browneheather — July 17, 2009 @ 5:22 pm

  • [...] music scene. Think Bon Iver’s emotional depth, but with rich vocals. Says Heather Browne of Fuel for Friends Blog, “The technicolor songs pack a punch, yet sounded timeless through a symphony of strings, [...]

    Colorado Bands Worth Watching at SXSW « Interlude — March 8, 2010 @ 8:27 am

  • [...] Bon Iver convened into a cozy huddle at the front of the stage for this Jayhawks cover. Video hat tip: Fuel/Friends (link) [...]

    Bon Iver, Live @ Ogden Theater, Denver, 7.11.09 « Merry Swankster — March 23, 2010 @ 11:22 pm

  • [...] music scene. Think Bon Iver’s emotional depth, but with rich vocals. Says Heather Browne of Fuel for Friends Blog, “The technicolor songs pack a punch, yet sounded timeless through a symphony of strings, [...]

    SXSW 2010: Colorado Bands Worth Watching | Interlude Music — February 12, 2012 @ 11:30 am

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Bio Pic Name: Heather Browne
Location: Colorado, originally by way of California
Giving context to the torrent since 2005.

"I love the relationship that anyone has with music: because there's something in us that is beyond the reach of words, something that eludes and defies our best attempts to spit it out. It's the best part of us, probably, the richest and strangest part..."
—Nick Hornby, Songbook
"Music has always been a matter of energy to me, a question of Fuel. Sentimental people call it Inspiration, but what they really mean is Fuel."
—Hunter S. Thompson

Mp3s are for sampling purposes, kinda like when they give you the cheese cube at Costco, knowing that you'll often go home with having bought the whole 7 lb. spiced Brie log. They are left up for a limited time. If you LIKE the music, go and support these artists, buy their schwag, go to their concerts, purchase their CDs/records and tell all your friends. Rock on.

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