Live: Bon Iver and Frank Ocean Are Trying to Break Your Heart
|Frank Ocean rocking that Karate Kid look|
Ocean, an L.A.-via-New Orleans native, has a smooth, self-assured, schoolboy charm to him, one that's born out of shyness than cockiness. Aside from his spot-on vocals, this quiet confidence and smiling gentleness is Ocean's greatest asset on stage. Over the course of an hour-long set, the singer -- backed by a suited two-man band (No John Mayer) -- went through hits like "Thinking About You," "Novacane," "Sweet Life," and "Pyramids," often sparking a choir-like echo from the audience amid his gorgeously executed octave-spanning hooks. "We Made It in America" and "Strawberry Swing" came as additional, unexpected highlights, dense with warm memories of forgotten youth and the American Dream. One of the most spectacular things about Ocean is that he delivers the same sentiments with the same force live as he does on his records.
Vernon's brand of nostalgia is reflected in him as well; tall, white, beardy, quiet, mumbly, reverb soaked, and born from a cabin in the woods. But the Vernon whose "Lump Sum" and "Skinny Love" undoubtedly sparked millions of late-night phone calls between long-lost lovers has changed since his second album (or maybe it was his Grammy win). The Bon Iver that took the stage last night -- complete with a ragtag band of fellow shaggy, beardy fellows (No John Mayer) -- did not deliver the log-burning, campfire warm-and-fuzzies that one might have expected. It was only on the reverb-drowning, autotuned echo behind "Woods" that Vernon ever truly owned the stage on the same level of precious familiarity as his music.
"Calgary," a personal favorite, was performed with pomp, the horns far outweighing the angst behind Vernon's moans. "Creature Fear's" quiet folksy twangs were played live as a massive, crashing battle of reverb. "Holocene" and "Skinny Love" cued massive sing-a-longs, of course, though by then, his smooth-jazz jam-band stage act was more and more reminiscent of an indie Dave Matthews Band. And while Bon Iver's fans remained true with most of the audience singing in unison to "Skinny Love" long after Vernon had left the stage, he proved better on the iPod than in the flesh.
Critical Bias: Earlier in the evening, I joked that Frank Ocean would make me tear up. And then he actually did.
Overheard: "He's not gay. That's not politically correct. He's not bi, either. He's just not mad at a penis." -- Deep discussion of Frank Ocean overheard in the media area. Oof.
Random Notebook Dump: John Locke spotted in the VIP.