Monthly Archives: December 2017

Bon Iver

Friday, December 8, 2017

State Theatre, Portland, Maine

In a sentence–for me, sadly, this show was a surprising disappointment.

I saw Bon Iver for the first time in September of 2012 at the Bank of America Pavillion in Boston. Caroline and I went together, and she wrote a lovely guest post giving the show a five star rating. I was in the third or fourth row for that full band show, and I was over the moon to hear some of my Bon Iver favorites in person and to sing “The Wolves (Acts I and II)” together. The energy at that show was palpably positive.

When I saw that Bon Iver was playing so nearby in Portland at State Theatre, I was thrilled. I set an alarm to buy tickets in the presale, but the timing of my teaching plans were a little off because we had an unexpected fire drill, so I selfishly asked my students to work on their homework for a few minutes while I tried to get tickets on both my laptop and my phone. My phone came through for me and I snagged a pair of tickets a few rows from the back of the room, and I can’t think of a time I was so happy to have basically back row seats. I checked again when tickets went on sale to the general public, but they seemed completely sold out right away. I read through more than a hundred comments from angry Bon Iver fans about how impossible it was to get tickets for the show, and revelled in my luck. I even looked online at StubHub just to see if I could get seats closer to the stage, but seats in my far away section were selling for $250 each (a huge markup over the $65 face value). I scoffed at the idea of selling my tickets for profit anyhow, but then I went to the show and thought twice.

Bartlett was my lucky date for the night, even though many people inquired about my extra ticket for the show right up until the night of the show. We met for dinner at El Rayo, had a couple of tacos and cocktails, and made our way to State Theatreearly to make it through their added security and because there was no opening act. Justin Vernon took the stage solo, which I am usually totally in favor of, but this was an odd night. I was surprised by how many people were back and forth to the bar and bathroom during the show because we’d all paid a decent amount for these highly sought after tickets and I figured everyone there would be a big fan. (A sarcastic shout out to the annoying super fan couple in the third row that spent most of the night dancing wildly on your feet–rudely obstructing the views of and distracting everyone all around you. You guys made me glad my seats were so far away). There was some sort of chatter coming from the other front orchestra section, I guess, because Justin interjected a snarky comment about them, and then followed up with a comment about how we should all just love each other. Later, someone from the crowd shouted out “I love you, Justin,” and he responded “I have plans later. But I appreciate that.” I thought some (but not all) of his banter with the audience was awkward to the point of kind of mean spirited. It felt like he didn’t want to have to perform for us, and it ruined the show experience for me.

My view of Justin Vernon from the back of the State Theatre

I didn’t feel at all this way five years ago when I first saw Bon Iver live, so I have some theories about this night’s cringeworthy moments. The easiest explanation would be that folks nearest him were being rude and I couldn’t hear it. That, sadly, has been the case at other shows I’ve been to in Portland, where people talk all night over the performer. Regina Spektor’s show earlier this year at State Theatrecomes right to mind. Maybe something has shifted for Justin during these years that makes performing difficult for him, or, he was just having a bad night. If I missed something, please tell me. I’d love to know there was an obvious cause for his somewhat grumpy demeanor.

Musically, Justin was great. I loved hearing so many songs I love live–“Flume,”“Perth,”“Blood Bank,”“Skinny Love,”and “Woods”–and his cover of“I Can’t Make You Love Me”was heart wrenching, as expected. I enjoyed hearing the heavily electronic songs from his 2016 album, 22, A Million in person, too. It felt good to sing “The Wolves (Acts I and II)” together to end the night at Justin’s invitation, but I was very surprised he only played a one song encore (a cover of Mahalia Jackson’s “Satisfied Mind”), because he was on stage less than an hour. I’d felt so lucky to have the opportunity to be in the room, but was genuinely sadly disappointed during and after the show. It felt like an off night from start to finish, and it seemed to me like Justin struggles with the pressures of being a beloved musician, which seemed to shine through during this show. In the end, I am fine with having spent $65 to see Justin Vernon from basically the back row, but I probably wouldn’t do it again, which is disappointing given how much his music has positively impacted my life.

If you missed this show, I honestly don’t think you missed much. Maybe something was going on with the crowd up front that I couldn’t hear. If folks were being rude and Justin was annoyed with them–I can totally live with that. From where I sat, though, this show was a bummer. If you saw another night of this tour and had a very positive experience, I would also like to hear from you so that I know this was simply an off night and that Justin is just fine. I’m truly hoping for that.

xo,

bree

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Lucy Kaplansky

Saturday, December 2, 2017

One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine

This was such an excellent Saturday! I spent part of the day volunteering at Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center’s Festival of Trees in Gardiner (I’m on the Board of Directors), enjoyed Gardiner’s Parade of Lights down Water Street from the second story window, and made my way to One Longfellow Square where my steadfast concert buddy, Colin, kindly saved me a front row seat for the show.

Festival of Trees at Johnson Hall Performing Arts Center in Gardiner

I love seeing folk singer-songwriter Lucy Kaplansky live. She is consistently warm and open with the audience, and seeing her in person feels intimate–like sitting around together in her living room. I first saw Lucy open for Ellis Paul back in 2007, and have seen her maybe ten times since then. I always look forward to hearing updates about her beloved husband, daughter Molly, and Janie the beagle, and it feels a bit like catching up with an old friend. Lucy writes songs about her life, and I’m humbled when songwriters are so willing to share their life experiences with strangers.

One of the things I appreciate most about Lucy is how much she loves and respects her daughter Molly. She played a bittersweet song on mandolin about how fast her daughter is growing up. Lucy told us she’d be happy to play our requests, and even if she hadn’t played the songs we requested in ages, she still gave them her best shot. Someone asked her to play “This is Mine,” and she told us it was a poem her husband Richard Litvan had written for her. When she finished, she said, “and that’s why I love my husband so much.” She also played “Ten Year Night,” which is also about him.

One of the things that makes a concert a true concert experience is when artists discuss the inspiration for their songs. Lucy never disappoints in this area. This time, I learned about her song “Don’t Mind Me.” Her daughter Molly had been assigned to read a book by Sherman Alexie last year, and Lucy told her, “I know him.” Best known for his film, Smoke Signals, Alexie ended up coming backstage to meet Lucy, Dar Williams, and Richard Shindell after a Cry Cry Cry show twenty years ago in Seattle. They hit it off, and he asked them to write a song for a particular scene in a movie he was writing and directing. He told them to think “Hopelessly Devoted to You,” but with Joni Mitchell singing it. Dar gave it a shot and wrote “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” and Lucy and her husband co-wrote “Don’t Mind Me.” Alexie liked it so much that he wrote Lucy into the movie to play herself as a street singer. The movie didn’t end up getting made, but Lucy did get the song out of it.

I follow Lucy on Facebook, so I see a lot of pictures of her beloved dog, Janie. Janie is Lucy’s first dog ever. Her mom had been afraid of dogs, so she grew up without them. Lucy’s daughter kept asking for a dog, and they finally said yes. Lucy said, “it was a revelation to me that I could fall in love with a dog. I have at least a hundred photos on my phone of her if you want to see her after the show.” She wrote a very sweet song for her NYC dog and their “Everyday Street.”

Lucy’s dad, Irving Kaplansky, was a mathematician, a professor, and a musician, and Lucy sang one of his quirky songs, “On an Asteroid with You,” about honeymooning in outer space for us, as well. She’s also recorded an album of his songs aptly titled Kaplansky Sings Kaplansky. You can only get that EP at her shows.

Lucy told us about another audience requested song, “Manhattan Moon,” as well. She’d worked on a song for months, but it wasn’t right, so she sadly threw it away. She took a few of the best lines from that song, though, and wrote a new song in four hours, which became “Manhattan Moon.”

Lucy draws attentive, polite audiences. That matters to me. She appreciates it, too. She told us a few times that she really appreciated playing for us and complimented us on how nice we were to play for. She told us that she truly enjoys her fans, and invited us to come chat with her after the show in the lobby, adding that “you don’t have to buy anything–I just want to meet you!” She closed the show with a cover of Elvis Costello’s  “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding,” but came back to play an encore after a standing ovation.

Lucy ended the night with one of my favorites–“This is Home.” I’ve heard Lucy say that she wrote this song when she and her husband were first starting the adoption process about 15 years ago. They knew there was a little girl waiting for them in China, but hadn’t met Molly yet. I don’t think of myself as much of a sap, but I shed a tear when Lucy sang “when we find her/we’ll belong to her/we won’t see her first smile, we won’t hear her first word/But ours will be the first heart she holds in her hands/She can keep them beside her in her very own room.” What a wonderful way to spend a Saturday! Thanks, Lucy!

xo,

bree

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