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Arts & Entertainment Presented by Santa Barbara Center for the Performing Arts

Jeff Moehlis

Jeff Moehlis: Bon Iver at the Bowl

Grammy Award-winning band visits Santa Barbara

By Jeff Moehlis, Noozhawk Contributing Writer |

When Bon Iver won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist this year, it was a bit of a head-scratcher.

I mean, how could some band that most people had never heard of — from Wisconsin, of all places — beat out ubiquitous pop princess Nicki Minaj, who at times seems to have the full weight of the music and publishing industries behind her?

Or, for those in the know, how could Bon Iver even be considered a “new artist” when their first album, the sublime and critically acclaimed For Emma, Forever Ago, was released four years before?

I don’t claim to know the answers to these questions. But I do know that whatever praise one has for Bon Iver is probably well-deserved, as was apparent from their highly-anticipated concert at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Sunday night.

Underneath arty torn curtains and with dozens of electric candles providing onstage ambiance, frontman and mainman Justin Vernon (vulnerable and usually falsetto lead vocals, guitar, sometimes keyboards) and the eight other musicians (vulnerable and usually falsetto harmonizing vocals, guitars, violins, horns of various shapes and sizes, and two sets of drums) delighted the crowd with their plaintive indie rock stylings. Vernon is a true artist — it just so happens that his medium is sound.

The concert was dominated by nearly all of the songs off Bon Iver’s 2011 self-titled release, with highlights including concert opener “Perth,” “Towers” and the stunningly beautiful “Holocene” with lyrics such as “and at once I knew I was not magnificent,” plus all of the songs off the first album — “Creature Fear,” “Flume,” “Skinny Love,” “For Emma” and “re: stacks,” which was presented as a moving solo performance by Vernon.

But, really, it was all good. Magnificent, in fact. But isn’t that what you would expect from the band that won the Grammy for Best New Artist this year?


Minnesota, WI
Beach Baby
Hinnom, TX
Creature Fear
Blood Bank
re: stacks
Skinny Love
Lisbon, OH

Who Is It (Bjork cover)
For Emma

Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site,

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