ACL Live Shot: The Shouting Matches

Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and friends go Southern rock

Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver)
Justin Vernon (aka Bon Iver)
photo by Sandy Carson

By virtue of the fact that he’s responsible for Bon Iver, Justin Vernon is a musical genius and everyone should love every music-related fart and hum he emits. However, despite a technically superior performance that was indeed quite fun, it was during this set that cultural appropriation fatigue set in.

Vernon, drummer Brian Moen, and organist Phil Cook took the stage as the sun set with the bandleader greeting the sparse crowd with a simple, “Howdy, y’all. We’re the Shouting Matches, and we’re just going to try to have the best time possible.” Have a good time they did, cracking jokes about staying properly hydrated and making goofy allusions to Yanni Live at the Acropolis.

All that fun was being had because three guys onstage decided to spin out electrified variants of Southern blues, gospel, and soul, much of which appears on the trio’s recent release, Grownass Man. Where “Avery Hill” dabbled in bluesy rock, “Mother, When?” evoked a tent revival. One could even imagine Robert Duvall preach-dancing on the side of the stage. Meanwhile, “Heaven Knows” took a detour to low-down, no-good-woman blues, and “Seven Sisters” allowed for a long, smoky harmonica solo from Cook, the band’s resident cutup.

While Vernon and company certainly paid appropriate homage to their musical influences, covering J.J. Cale’s “Crazy Mama” and giving a shout-out to the Blind Boys of Alabama, whose recent album I’ll Find a Way Vernon produced, as part of their introduction to the heavily gospel-infused “New Theme,” the Shouting Matches don’t really seem to be adding much to the musical conversation that began when the Rolling Stones discovered the three-chord progression of the blues.

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