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Justin Vernon of Volcano Choir played a sold-out gig Friday night at First Avenue in Minneapolis.

Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

Volcano Choir goes full steam at First Ave

  • Article by: Chris Riemenschneider
  • Star Tribune
  • October 23, 2013 - 12:21 PM

Min­ne­ap­olis al­read­y worshiped Jus­tin Ver­non as Bon Iver, but its love af­fair took on even more of a re­li­gious tone at Fri­day’s Vol­ca­no Choir con­cert.

The beard­ed indie bard from Eau Claire, Wis. — who won the best new art­ist Gram­my as Bon Iver last year and then stopped work­ing un­der that name this year — played an­oth­er sold-out gig with an­oth­er band Fri­day at First Avenue. Com­pared with Au­gust’s per­form­ance by his more straight-a­head bro-rock trio the Shout­ing Match­es, the 75-min­ute Vol­ca­no Choir set hewed clos­er to the Bon Iver sound, with e­lec­tron­i­cal­ly ma­nipu­lat­ed vo­cals and lay­ered gui­tar ar­range­ments.

But there was no mis­tak­ing one for the oth­er (or for the oth­er oth­er). In­stead of the stan­dard sing­er/song­writ­er stance at cen­ter-stage, Ver­non spent the du­ra­tion of Fri­day’s gig stand­ing off to the side be­hind a pul­pit. He didn’t once strap on a gui­tar, and in­stead tin­kered with elec­tron­ic gear on his lec­tern or kept his hands free to ges­ture with his hands like a preach­er. He fre­quent­ly sang in preach­er-like rhyth­mic pat­terns, too, of­ten build­ing in fer­vor along with the mu­sic.

Even more than Bon Iver, though, Vol­ca­no Choir proved to be a Holy Trinity kind of thing. The rest of the six-piece band — most­ly culled from the Mil­wau­kee en­sem­ble Col­lec­tions of Colo­nies of Bees — played a more cen­tral role than the back­ing band at Bon Iver shows. There was more of a “show,” too, with mood-set­ting stage light­ing and a mas­sive back­drop that looked like a moon topo­graphi­cal map.

Fri­day’s set kicked off with two crescendoing gems, “Tiderays” and “Island IS,” one a­piece from Vol­ca­no Choir’s two al­bums and both built on a hushed am­bi­ence that gave way to loud, whirr­ing re­ver­ber­a­tion. “Island, IS” was es­pe­cial­ly a show­piece for drum­mer Jon Muel­ler, with a wa­ter­fall-like cas­cade of crash­ing cym­bals.

Gui­tar­ist Chris Roseneau proved to be the ace in the hole Fri­day. First off, he joined his old Mil­wau­kee ar­e­a co­hort Mark Mallman in the open­ing set (as did local club stars Claire de Lune and Sean Anonymous). He also pro­vid­ed ele­gant a­cous­tic gui­tar work through­out the con­cert, which some­how shone through all the e­lec­tric and elec­tron­ic in­stru­ments, most no­ta­bly in the dra­mat­ic “Comrade.”

Rosneau also did most of the talk­ing Fri­day, start­ing with com­ments a­bout how play­ing First Ave was “like a dream come true.”

One thing Vol­ca­no Choir doesn’t have over Bon Iver is a trove of stage-ready songs. The fal­set­to work­out “Keel” came off like a stu­dio ex­per­i­ment that should have been left in the stu­dio. The hushed and mono­tone “Youology” es­pe­cial­ly fell flat as an en­core fi­na­le, par­tic­u­lar­ly af­ter the pre-encore one-two punch of “Byegone” and “Still.”

In steady ro­ta­tion at 89.3 the Cur­rent, “Byegone” sound­ed tri­um­phal-march epic in con­cert. “Still” served as a re­mind­er of all the dif­fer­ent aven­ues Ver­non has pur­sued in re­cent years, con­sid­er­ing parts of it were used for Bon Iver’s “Woods” and Kanye West’s “Lost in the World.” Both the song and the sing­er felt right at home in Vol­ca­no Choir, though.

See Vol­ca­no Choir’s set list and more week­end con­cert re­views at startribune.com/artcetera

 

chrisr@startribune.com • 612-673-4658

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