Volcano Choir at the Commodore Ballroom

Volcano Choir at the Commodore Ballroom Jan 24. Kirk Chantraine photo.

Volcano Choir at the Commodore Ballroom Jan 24. Kirk Chantraine photo.

Review and photos – Volcano Choir at the Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver, Jan 24 2014

– review by Ria Nevada/photos by Kirk Chantraine

At the end of 2012, Justin Vernon made the surprising decision to step back from his Grammy-winning band Bon Iver and avoid the distractions that came with all their overwhelming media attention. It was the perfect time to focus his creative energies on Volcano Choir, the passion project and experimental ground for he and fellow Wisconsin musicians from Collections of Colonies of Bees and All Tiny Creatures.

The title of their 2013 record Repave aptly describes the clear and emboldened vision of the band. You only need to compare the opening numbers of their debut and sophomore albums to recognize their stunning evolution. Unmap unfurls with the timid guitars and blended harmonies on “Husks and Shells” – it’s as if the band starts out by dipping their toes in a calm pool. But on “Tiderays”, they come riding in on a giant wave of crashing drums and escalating synthesizers and guitars – Vernon’s voice and lyrics bursting with self-assurance and optimism.

Friday night’s show at theCommodore Ballroom showcased their huge, profound numbers that combined rustic acoustic instrumentation from guitarists Chris Rosenau and Daniel Spack with vibrant electronic textures. Keyboardist Thomas Wincek is credited with orchestrating the seamless marriage of these elements. Meanwhile, Vernon creates analog-y harmonies above and below his own vocal track to fill out their soundscape. What all this leads to is an aurally and visually arresting performance.

There were some intense moments on “Comrade”, when Vernon’s auto-tuned voice overshadowed the more interesting layers of the track. But then he drew back with the reflective and even-keeled melody of “Alaskans” – a song that ends with a voice-over of Charles Bukowski meditating on life and death. This complicated sonic tension was also obvious on “Keel”, a track that starts off a little withdrawn but builds up into a magnificent catharsis.

Being one of the last stops of their tour, for the Vancouver show Volcano Choir invited openers The Cloak Ox to perform with them on their closing numbers. They praised the Minnesota crew as a fine example of a “real rock band”. It’s a completely accurate description of their power-solo and anthem-filled sound. This encapsulated the tone of Friday night’s sold-out show at the Commodore Ballroom – it felt like a celebration of all these seasoned artists’ kinship and creative cohesion.

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