Home / Concert Reviews / Volcano Choir @ The Pabst Theater
Monday, Sept. 30, 2013

Volcano Choir @ The Pabst Theater

Sept. 28, 2013

volcano choir justin vernon pabst theater 2013
Photo credit: CJ Foeckler
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Ever since Mayor Tom Barrett officially proclaimed one Friday a couple years ago as “Bon Iver Day” in Milwaukee, the city has clamped its claws into Justin Vernon, attempting to claim the Eau Claire native as its own. Every time Vernon plays the city with one of his many side projects, the local response is reliably enthusiastic, even when the material wasn’t so inspired on the other end. But Saturday night at a sold-out Pabst Theater show with Volcano Choir, Vernon stepped away from the spotlight momentarily and allowed the focus to lie on his Milwaukee counterparts: past and present members of the local post-rock group Collections of Colonies of Bees. The results were awe-inspiring, rivaling even Vernon’s work in Bon Iver.

“Our moms are here! Our dads are here! Our sisters are here!” guitarist Chris Rosenau exclaimed gleefully. While Vernon did insert a few compliments, he mostly dialed back his natural charm to let Rosenau speak for the band. And even though Vernon looked in charge standing behind a podium, it was obvious that this was a collaborative effort. This (somewhat) homecoming performance couldn’t help but feel monumental to both those on stage and in the audience. The crowd, surprisingly calm for its size, had the awareness to scream only when appropriate, and remained decidedly hushed during the serene moments. Only rarely did a holler seem out of place. Given how often rude, self-centered crowds derail performances, that mindfulness was quite a treat.

Props, of course, go to Volcano Choir for putting out its best album to date—one deserving of such delicate appreciation. The just released Repave is more immediately accessible and the lyrics are more discernible (relatively) than its mysterious 2009 predecessor, Unmap. Each song feels like a harrowing journey with no clear final destination. Collectively, the players build into something transcendent and much bigger than thought possible at the outset.

The atypical song structures and the sometimes slow, creeping pace of this kind of experimental pop music can drag and lull listeners through all kinds of boredom, but Volcano Choir constantly kept things interesting live on Saturday night. The show maintained a consistent ebb and flow between the relaxed and the riotous—oftentimes within the same song. In a night filled with “big” moments (almost every song unearthed a clear climax), none felt bigger than the bombastic crescendo of Repave single “Byegone.” At that instant, it didn’t matter who was from where, or who came to see who—it was clear that this music was universally special and without boundaries.
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