Volcano Choir Deliver an Expansive, Emotive Set at Webster Hall

September 16th, 2013

Volcano Choir – Webster Hall – September 14, 2013

Pitchfork’s Ian Cohen claimed Repave was Volcano Choir’s “fun album” mere weeks before the band, a retrofitted or hard-to-distinguish analog for Bon Iver, played to a packed Webster Hall on Saturday night. Appropriately, for the alleged acoustic post-rock good times, the crowd didn’t bleed the bucolic melodies of Justin Vernon, looking more like a young professional frat party than fans of any rural music collective. Even Bon Iver and Volcano Choir, despite their humble origins, are barely recognizable as pastoral, crafting the slow jams and emotive geography of coastal elites. But if the plaid was ironic even for an unseasonably cool night in September, Vernon’s melodies never were, an expansive and emotive set that managed to deliver the pathos even for a crowd that didn’t expressly need it, but knew it would be coming.

Volcano Choir opened with the droning keyboard progression of “Tiderays.” Vernon emerged and took his place behind what looked like a pulpit, where he proceeded to preach heavily echoed vocals over the next 90 minutes. It was all something of a refraction, hard to distinguish what made this Volcano Choir and not Bon Iver as the band moved through first-album single “Island, IS” and the explosive “Comrade,” during which Vernon raised a single fist in the chorus, a trope of rebellion and underdog triumph distorted by the sold-out crowd, the excellent second album, the adoring privilege of privileged fans. The band told the audience they’d be playing almost every song they knew, including some new material that “hasn’t found a home yet.” In one case, the band agreed on the fly to call a yet-untitled song “The Agreement” after the yelling exhortations of the first few rows.

Vernon, from his perch, interstitial to the songs, explained some of the broad purpose: “It never gets old to make a record that you worked on for a really fucking long time,” finishing with “it never gets old, people giving a shit what you did.” Volcano Choir then played the night’s slowest song, “Keel.” The show was all about texture and magnification. The cloth backdrop behind Vernon and crew looked like one of those microscope pictures of the human skin that look like the moon. Volcano Choir “covered” the Bon Iver cut “Woods,” easily one of the night’s high points. The ability to make the smallest of moments important, the patience to find a slow build and a big payoff, in a small acoustic-guitar loop, all granted Volcano Choir the power to distort and make real in the same instant. “I won’t beg for you on acetate,” sang Vernon in aching echo, the best sense of making what was flat fully rendered. —Geoff Nelson