Monday evening at a reformed synagogue/art gallery/performance space in New York, Frank Ocean and Bon Iver played a secret show for the final installment in the Fader/Vitamin Water Uncapped concert series.
Although one wouldn't usually connect the backwoods, confessional folk of Bon Iver to Frank Ocean's modern-meets-retro R&B, seeing both incredible acts in the same atypically Gothic synagogue (the Angel Orensanz Center) brought to mind the similarities between the two artists' intimate, unfiltered approach to songwriting. Performance-wise, though, the two were startling different—only not in the way you'd expect.
Last night in concert, Frank Ocean took his sturdily-crafted R&B songs and used his restrained stage presence to deflate his muscular R&B music to a point where it felt naked, guileless and even claustrophobic. Bon Iver, on the other hand, took Justin Vernon's painfully fragile songs and stretched them into riff-heavy jams—in essence, they made folk songs into legit headbangers.
Opening with what he described as a "soft jazz" take on "LoveCrimes," Ocean delivered a 10-song set that included four tracks from his mixtape Nostalgia, Ultra, the Internet freebie "Summer Remains," his hook from Watch the Throne's "Made In America" and four from his debut Channel Orange (ending with the sprawling, hypnotic "Pyramids"). As befitting someone who sits on a stool while performing and is perpetually obscured by an American flag bandanna and low lighting, Ocean shut out the Gothic architecture behind him and made the three-level synagogue feel like a living room.
When Bon Iver took the stage after him, frontman Justin Vernon was rocking the stars n' bars on a headband seemingly in tribute to Ocean. Fresh off Bon Iver's four concerts as part of the ongoing Fuse Music Week Live From Radio City Music Hall, frontman Justin Vernon assured fans that despite talk of an upcoming band hiatus, fans shouldn't freak. "This is going to be our last show in a minute," Vernon told the crowd. "Don't worry so much but thanks for sharing it with us."
Over the course of a 90-minute set, Bon Iver built up from their coffeehouse folk tunes to a cacophonous jam session that found typically somber songs charging forward with an insistent, near-libidinous groove. By the end of the night, Vernon's American flag bandanna didn't bring Ocean to mind any longer. With his sweaty patriotic headband and his brotherly sing-along encore to "The Wolves," Vernon was verging on Springsteen—and it sounded incredible.