Black Mountain + Bon Iver

SPACE Gallery, February 25

(Note: pic not from this show.)

What better opener for a revivalist stoner rock band than a... lesser-known, sensitive, atmospheric singer-songwriter act for post-adolescent couples to canoodle to? This is the inauspicious position Black Mountain places Justin Vernon and his band, Bon Iver, in every night. If Monday night and web consensus is any representation, the group consistently hold their own, even at SPACE Gallery, where a crowd of 200 + quiet breakup songs is rarely an optimal formula.

Vernon seemed well enough aware of this precarious position to adapt his music for a rock crowd without betraying its wintry essence. His voice, more of a whispery falsetto on Bon Iver’s fine debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, takes on a forceful tenor on stage. It sacrifices a bit of the delicacy of Bon Iver’s humbler tracks (“Blindsided”), but the crowd-silencing tricks he pulled out with each song - a gorgeous multi-part harmony opening “Lump Sum,” some great solos from each of the three band members - not only compensated for anything wanting, but are forcing me to second guess my favorable-but-dismissive opinion of the band’s album.

Black Mountain, on the other hand, didn’t need to compromise a damned thing. They played relatively straight versions of nine of the ten songs on their latest epic, In the Future, with a couple of likeminded jams from their (even better) self-titled debut in for good measure. The whole band seemed to be in top form. Singer Amber Webber struck a fascinating figure at center stage. She seemed pretty disaffected at times - initially, the songs where she had little to do but handle a tambourine made her presence distracting - but her trembly yet massive vibrato complicated that notion, making her seem more the Chan Marshall or Bjork of the band.

By the time I cozied up to that distinction, Black Mountain were unstoppable. As the set wore on and loosened up (most of the 6+ minute songs came later on), this became the kind of concert you could watch for hours. Set highlights included “Druganaut,” with its porn-soundtrack tempo and relentless hooks, and the mammoth, emotional “Don’t Run Our Hearts Around.” That these were the two tracks from the band’s debut isn’t really a coincidence - it’s a much more liberal and unpredictable affair than the great but stubborn In the Future - but Black Mountain’s newfound focus on atmospherics further improved the songs.

All said, phenomenal show. Excellent sound quality (particularly impressive given the major highs and lows of BM's tunes), a one-song, 17-minute encore, etc., and the best Monday night Portland will see in a long time.

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