Volcano Choir Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver BC, January 24
Published Jan 25, 2014With Bon Iver on indefinite hiatus since 2012, Volcano Choir has become more of a focus for fans eagerly awaiting a follow up to 2011's Bon Iver, which earned the Justin Vernon-helmed project two Grammys ("Best New Artist" and "Best Alternative Music Album"). Though the sound is different, with Bon Iver leaning toward indie folk and baroque pop while Volcano Choir, backed by members of Collections of Colonies of Bees, leans in a more dreamy post-rock and experimental pop direction, Vernon's presence is clearly at the middle of it all.
Volcano Choir's second-ever Canadian show started off a little slow, opening with only an organ drone, care of keyboardist Thomas Wincek. Eventually, the whole band appeared onstage to bring "Tiderays" to life, Vernon replicating the auto-tuned vocal effects in harmony with Wincek. Tattered fishnet acted as a backdrop, its ghostly visage illuminated with a range of colors according to song cues. This cloth also adorned a podium in the middle of the stage, from which Vernon operated.
Vernon's thoughtful, enigmatic lyrics and resonant voice sat front and centre, with his assembled six-piece group's sonic explorations unfurling around him, performing selections from their 2009 debut Unmap, sophomore album Repave from 2013, and two as-yet-unreleased tracks ("Valleyonaire" and "The Agreement"). They seemed to collectively scramble around for a few tracks, but eventually found their comfort zone. Guitarist Chris Rosenau began delivering enthusiastic gratitude, saying "wow" multiple times, and Vernon got into character.
He started to loosen up during "Valleyonaire," pained expressions flashing across his face while he mimed various lyrics; by "Dancepack," he was practically acting out the whole story. Despite often being clouded by effects, his voice remained strong and emotive, hitting every note from his deepest tones to cotton candy falsetto, whether on more pop-based tracks like "Island, IS", which came off like mid-career Genesis, or "Keel," on which drummer Jon Mueller traded his sticks for soft mallets, Rosenau moved from electric to acoustic guitar with glitch effects and Vernon unleashed the full force of his falsetto.
The whole set seemed to pick up steam as it progressed. The moving downtempo track "Alaskans" and Bon Iver ballad "Woods" calmed the otherwise restless Commodore crowd. Near the encore, "Byegone" started with the entire band turning to the drums and head-banging each elongated beat, building to a climax that resulted in audience-wide swaying, capped by the biggest cheer of the night.