At Friday night's Eaux Claires festival in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, festival organizer and hometown boy Justin Vernon debuted 22, A Milion, an album of new Bon Iver material, his first major project since 2011's Bon Iver, Bon Iver. Immediately after the show, the album's first two songs, "22 (OVER S∞∞N)" and "10 d E A T h b R E a s T ⊠ ⊠," were released online. Those two tracks represent the 10-song album's sound fairly well — faithful to the layered sounds of Bon Iver's first two LPs, with an electronic and distorted bent.
The hundreds of fans in attendance weathered through a rainy Saturday to hear the album's premiere. Vernon performed intensely, rarely taking breaks from playing, save a brief pause to help a fan in the front row who needed medical attention. Vernon didn't actually address the crowd until after the fifth song. "So that's the end of side a," he said. "We're playing it live for the first time. Pretty cool."
Song titles for the tracks were sent out to the audience throughout the set via push notifications from the festival's app. Many attendees around me thought the song titles, which almost all contain a series of numbers and symbols, were a code that had to be deciphered later. Lyrics to the album's last song were printed in a festival guide book distributed to all in attendance. Many looked relieved to be able to sing along with Vernon.
The album has a much fuller sound than Vernon's older work, particularly his gaunt earliest releases. To make sure that aesthetic translated on stage, Vernon played with an eight-piece brass section, which Vernon called The Sad Sax Of Shit.
After playing through 22, A Milion, Vernon was joined on stage by indie-folk band The Staves, who appear on the album, for a version of For Emma, Forever Ago track “Re: Stacks.” He also performed a version of “Creature Fear,” from the same album, that was closer to the new album's intense sound. To close out the show, Vernon invited Bruce Hornsby to play “Beth/Rest,” the sax-heavy, anthemic closing song from Bon Iver, Bon Iver, that can be seen as laying the groundwork for this more ambitious project. "Humbled and thankful," Vernon told the crowd. "That's the only thing I tell people when they ask how I'm doing."
Check out The FADER's social coverage of the event below: