I don't think Hank done it this way: Justin Vernon read lyrics from a Mac during Sunday's brunch gig at Icehouse in south Minneapolis with Mike Lewis (bass), JT Bates (drums) and Jeremy Ylvisaker (guitar). / Photo by Stacy Schwartz
How hot was Icehouse this past weekend? So hot that the 2011 best new artist Grammy Award winner actually saw the least attendance.
Granted, Sunday’s brunch performance by Justin “Bon Iver” Vernon wasn’t advertised as such. It wasn’t promoted, period, aside from a listing on the S. Nicollet Avenue eatery/club’s website promising “country covers” by an unknown group with the huh? name Ephasis. Word of the true identity surprisingly stayed on the lowdown. And anyway, how many people would’ve believed a rumor that Vernon was to be served along with French toast?
Sporting a wide-brimmed Hank-Sr.-style cowboy hat, the Eau Claire indie-rock guru took the stage around 11:30 a.m. with prominent local sidemen Jeremy Ylvisaker (guitar), Mike Lewis (bass) and JT Bates (drums). The part about them playing country tunes proved true. Another surprise, though, was the fact that they almost exclusively played country tunes by two legendary Johns: Cash and Prine. They opened with the former’s “I Still Miss Someone,” then played the latter’s “Christmas in Prison.” Other Cash classics in the fest of two sets included “Don’t Take Your Guns to Town,” “Unchained” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” The Prine hit list featured “All the Best” and “Angel From Montgomery.” Per an all-too-reliable source, the second set offered more from each singer as well as Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” and Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire.”
No falsetto here. Vernon already showed off his adeptness for singing Prine on the 2010 tribute album “Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows,” and anyone who knows his records would recognize his ability to bellow deep like Cash. The performance was arguably more a showcase for Ylvisaker, who showed off yet another side to his guitar abilities by playing tasteful ambient-twang fills throughout the sets. Word is Vernon has been in town doing some recording with Sunday’s bandmates and some of their cohorts. If they’re not doing similarly twangy stuff in the studio this time around, they should at some point.
Before a reportedly well-attended and well-executed release-party by Northfield buzz band the Counterfactuals on Saturday, Vernon was also on hand as one of about 80 participants in Friday’s Icehouse gig. The show was officially the last of a three-night run by resident electro-whack-jobs Marijuana Deathsquads. Unofficially, it was a well-wishing bon-voyage-for-now party for Stef Alexander, a k a P.O.S., who will have his long-awaited kidney transplant next week.
“This is a remix of a remix,” Alexander said as he launched into warped, slogged, Skrew-y versions of the first three tracks from his 2012 P.O.S. album “We Don’t Even Live Here,” which the Deathsquads crew did remix in its entirety on record last year.
They only did about a fourth of the record on stage Friday, though, weaving in and out of snippets of certain tracks while a small cavalcade of Twin Cities indie-rock and rap stars took the stage to improvise lyrics and vocal effects. The guests included (in rough order of who made the biggest impressions) Lizzo, Astronautalis, Allan Kingdom and Spyder Baybie. Vernon joined the Deathsquads crew on the decks and gadgets alongside DJ Fundo and Polica’s Channy Leaneagh. Alexander was up there the whole time, smiling the whole time.
“You guys aren’t going to see me for a while, but then you’re going to see me everywhere,” he told the sold-out crowd. Let’s hold him to that.