The idea is based on a kind of parody of the former Socialist building style. They used to build whole cities where each house was designed identically to create cheap housing for workers. These ‘blocks’ were so similar that in Soviet times, you could easily wake up at a friends place in another city and still feel like you are in your flat. Even the furniture was the same.
We first suggested this idea just like we used to, hoping it would work because we so loved the artist. We just suggested that Bon Iver could play a private show, a Pocket Party in an apartment. We didn’t really know if we could trust that it would ever happen until one moment in May, when Nora and I met Justin for an interview in a small backyard. At the end of it, we mentioned what was on our minds. He immediately responded that this is kinda what he dreams of: that his album is meant to be played in front of small crowds, and that he was looking forward to it.
We, too, were looking forward to it, and God knows how hard it all was. We had to reschedule everything at the last minute; there was another gig in competition with ours; Canal+ stole our initial date. But when you have faith, you end up under the porch of a building in Abbesses on a rainy Monday with Justin, Sean, Mike, and their tour manager, bonnets, and gear, waiting for the caretaker to come back and give you the keys to the Buxes’ apartment.
We emptied the living room for the Pocket Party, and then spent an hour or so wandering with Bon Iver. Over the course of the afternoon, we thought over the best way to play—plain acoustic, without any amp. We brought them a melodica, a Glockenspiel; there was also Ethel’s little toy piano. Justin talked about walking among the audience, occupying the space. Then Vincent Moon arrived, and we left him alone with the band in the apartment. We had to go buy some beer.
What you can see in these first videos, and what we understood that evening, is how thoroughly Bon Iver is now a band. How important young Mike, Justin’s student, and Sean, who went to Justin after a show and offered to accompany him, are in setting up the songs. Justin comes in to counterpoint Sean’s voice at the end of the first half of "Lump Sum", and Sean is the leader, even though he looks to Justin for approval and quickly defers to him before any major maelstrom.
Flash back, however, to earlier in the day as they worked out their set. They first tried working with voices only, after Sean had talked about Grizzly Bear’s Take Away Show, about their a cappella performance of "Knife" in the streets. Justin asked his two pals to try the same thing on "For Emma". A ritornello on two octaves for Sean and Mike, accompanied by snapping for the rhythm: that would be just enough...
Time does fly: thirty people were already waiting in the courtyard when we returned from our little shopping excursion. We couldn’t let them come up—we weren’t ready: Moon and Bon Iver were still shooting "For Emma" in Ethel’s bedroom. In the end, the band came to them... The three guys just popped in without us expecting them, and started singing this newborn version of "For Emma". It was a divine surprise. The band had already disappeared into the streets, but we were still flabbergasted. We had to make the audience come up and prepare for the show. But this is another story... And other videos...
We already described the magic of this party. A magic that depended on its intimacy, of course; on the acoustics; but, above all, on the reciprocity. Between each song, Justin took a few minutes to talk to us, telling us how happy they were to be there, on that particular night, with such a small crowd.
After the band entered the room by the balcony, playing “Flume”, they asked once again to be closer to the audience. We could see the sun’s rays slipping away and hear the noisy street, but we didn’t care—Justin was explaining that was how he wanted to play his songs. Perfect. That was how we wanted to listen to them.
In order not to miss a second of the show, Vincent Moon’s cameras stayed on the whole evening. It would have been a shame to miss anything, indeed: each song was a real gem. Plus, Bon Iver gave us two covers: the Bowerbirds’ "Olive Heart" and a song by John Prime. But Moon was just like everyone else on that night: he didn’t want to do the filming only. He also wanted to be thrilled, to close his eyes and sway. So he abandoned his camera. It passed from hand to hand before Vincent took it back and moved gently among the people who were sitting while Justin performed "Wolves". The band invited us to sing along with them, as they do in all of their shows...
To give you a more precise recap of the evening, we should have let a camera film the declining day, the ceiling light we switched off, the candles we put on the floor. When Sean and Mike left their chairs to let Justin sing “Skinny Love”, it was night-black.
Afterwards, there were hugs, sushi, and some joints. Then we went down in the street. Liz Green was there; we sang in front of a carousel, on sidewalks, in the middle of the road, and then in a bar, where we got drinks. We can’t show you everything, though. We have to keep some things to ourselves, just next to the conviction that we’re going to organize other parties like this one. Thank you, Bon Iver. And thanks to those who were there.