Volcano Choir at First Avenue, 10/18/13

Categories: Last Night
Photo By Erik Hess

Volcano Choir
With Mark Mallman
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Friday, October 18, 2013

When Volcano Choir made their U.S. live debut at the Cedar in 2011, it marked the beginning of the band exploring their grand and spacious live sound. And at a sold-out First Avenue on Friday night, the seven-piece group comprised of Justin Vernon and cohorts from Collection of Colonies of Bees delivered an impassioned 85-minute set that drew mainly from their exquisite new album, Repave.

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Slideshow: Volcano Choir at First Avenue, 10/18/13

There's a groundswell of interest around Vernon and his Grammy-winning Bon Iver project, but in Volcano Choir he's content to only play a vocal role in the band's sonic direction. Behind a lit up pulpit, he evangelized only with his lyrics and some electronic vocal effects while the group carried the songs heavenward around him.

Guitarist Chris Rosenau provided much of the texture and tone to the songs, as well as most of the between-song banter, with the rest of the group adding their own swelling flourishes. Behind the band was a backdrop that looked like a modern art interpretation of a topographical map of a planet we've yet to discover (or simply Eau Claire), and the warm lighting cast ominous shadows, with different splashes of color eliciting contrasting sentiments as the night wore on.

Photos By Erik Hess

The show started strongly with "Tiderays" and "Island, IS." After a gorgeous, slow-burning version of "Comrade," Rosenau thanked the supportive crowd, and mentioned, "Playing First Avenue is a total dream come true for us," before introducing the first of two new songs the band offered up during the set, "Valleyonaire," which elegantly took shape and would bode well for another Volcano Choir record.

"Thank you all so much," Vernon said appreciatively as the well-earned cheers died down. "We've got kind of a nautical-themed record, and this is a song called 'Keel,' which is a part of a boat if I remember correctly." A rather hushed version of that track followed, but the din of the large club took away from the song's subtle grace. Things picked right back up with a vibrant run through of "Dancepack," which was driven along by the insistent rhythm of drummer Jon Muel­ler.

Rosenau introduced another new song, "The Agreement," by saying, "This is another song that hasn't found a home yet," while Vernon assured us, "It's all right to dance a little bit to this one." And indeed, the band had fully found their groove by this point, and "The Argument" took on an assured, pulsing swing that at least got the crowd swaying a bit instead of full-on dancing.

"Acetate" kept the strong finish to the main set rolling, with Vernon even putting on headphones as the textured track took off, manipulating his vocals to fit the swelling nature of the track. That jubilant moment served as the perfect introduction to the unquestioned high point of the evening. The exultant, towering version of "Byegone" that followed had the entire club singing the "Set sail!" refrain.

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