Justin Vernon and Aaron Dessner are Big Red Machine, but when it comes to promoting the act, it turns out one of them may be a bit bigger and redder than the other. Vernon didn’t make it to BRM’s performance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, where Dessner was joined by Anaïs Mitchell and Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold for a rendition of “Phoenix” and the debut of a new song, “New Auburn.”
That’s a lot of talent, but it was only the tip of the star-studded iceberg. The set was rounded out by indie rock stalwart and occasional Taylor Swift drummer JT Bates, horns from The Westerliess, and quite a bit of help from Dessner’s other band The National, including bassist Scott Devendorf and producer Nick Lloyd on keyboard.
“Phoenix” is one of the standout singles from the upcoming album How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last?, and while it was missing Vernon’s ethereal vocals, the collective effort left host Colbert visibly moved. “That was so beautiful,” he said at the end. “That was beautiful, thank you.”
For “New Auburn,” which was made available as a web exclusive, Dessner set up shop at one of the fabled Steinway pianos. Mitchell took lead vocals, and Pecknold showed great humility, as the most famous frontman on the stage played rhythm guitar and sang backup vocals. Check out that performance, as well as “Phoenix,” below.
How Long Do You Think It’s Gonna Last? arrives August 27th on Dessner and Vernon’s own 37d03d, and pre-orders are ongoing. Previously, they shared the singles “Latter Days,” “The Ghost of Cincinnati,” and “Renegade” with Taylor Swift, which we named our Song of the Week.