January Twenty-Fourth, Twenty-Fourteen, Volcano Choir stepped into Vancouver on what was their second last stop on this particular tour. Around 10:30 PM on what started as a gloriously sunny day, Justin Vernon and members of Collections of Colonies of Bees took the stage, causing immediate captivation.
This being the tour that followed the recent release of their sophomore album Repave, it only seemed right they open with “Tiderays.” What was once a loquacious crowd in a state of anticipation, quickly transformed into a 900-something person quiet game when that familiar organ reverberated throughout the room. Vernon’s raw vocals instantly connected, as the band drew in and outside the lines to keep things in a more natural, less rigid state. VC didn’t waste any time finding their way back to where it all began, with a brilliant rendition of “Island, Is” from their debut record Unmap.
With the release of Repave, there were a lot of questions that came along with it; “Will Justin make more time for Shouting Matches?” “Is Bon Iver permanently on hiatus?” “Will Volcano Choir be his main band?” The way I see it, as long as Justin Vernon continues to make music, I couldn’t care less which platform is chosen. He’s a man with multiple visions, and if you’ve ever seen him live or listened to his records, there isn’t one group he purposely pours more emotion into over the other. Simply put, this man truly devotes himself to the music itself.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s get back to the evening at hand. Maybe it was because I was in line for a $7 beer, but I felt “Comrade” was a little lacklustre. Perhaps I hold the cinematically majestic number in too high regard, but I expected it near the conclusion of the set, and half-expected it to knock me off my feet. Now on the the other hand, a few songs down the setlist, a nice little surprise was found in the form of “Acetate.” The vocals, the instrumentation, and the engineer were all one-hundred-percent on point. By no means is this an unfavourable track from the record for me, just not a favourite (until maybe now). How often do you find a live performance reinvigorates a song for you, or sheds a brand new light on it you never saw before?
There’s a certain allure of unreleased material being played live. You’re hearing it for the first time, giving you a sort of privileged entitlement. While I could gingerly bop my head to the first homeless track performed, “Valleyonaire” swept me off my feet. The composition is of the calibre that belongs on an album, an album that would be lucky to have it. The unreleased gem also helped with the synergy of the performers, they seemed to really find their footing during this song. The next two numbers on the docket also happen to be neighbours on the record. Despite the chatter throughout the room, drummer Jon Mueller enchanted the audience with some gong-like tendencies throughout “Keel.” That same piercing drum carried over seamlessly into “Dancepack,” a number that restored some energy both in the crowd and on stage. However, the peak of liveliness was saved for their nearly perfect performance of “Byegone,” a performance that evoked not only the loudest, but frankly the most genuine applause of the evening.
Prior to the encore of an evening that felt far too short-lived, Justin took us back to the “Woods.” While it was pleasant to hear Bon Iver had snuck into the building, the outro of this beautiful hymn was drawn out a little long. As a musician, I can only imagine there are those sonically momentous occasions you want to bask in forever.
Just as the evening begun with track one of Repave, it concluded in similar fashion – “Almanac” closed out the euphoric evening as we were left staring at the raw canvas backdrop.
Photo courtesy of @C_Bishop