Photos by Daniel Kielman
Volcano Choir, the side project of Bon Iver‘s Justin Vernon, Death Blues‘ Jon Mueller, and Thomas Wincek of All Tiny Creatures (both of whom played in Collections of Colonies of Bees with guitarist Chris Rosenau as well), played to a sold out crowd at the Fillmore Tuesday night.
Seeing a Grammy winner up close is kind of exciting—seeing a Grammy winner sporting a Hawaiian shirt is, well, endearing. Vernon almost seems normal. While many were surprised that Bon Iver took that Best New Artist trophy, he’s rather accomplished for his thirty-two years of age. Vernon had already proven himself as an incredible and versatile artist. It’s excellently unsettling to see such a performer appear so approachable too.
But I knew about two minutes into Volcano Choir’s set that this would be an important show.
Repave, the group’s sophomore album after 2009’s Unmap, puts a solemn chokehold on its audience. It’s emotional, it’s dense, and it hurts a bit to experience, but it feels honest and candidly normal. The album is a reconnaissance of essential human emotions. Volcano Choir summons all of the grimy pining and irresolute euphoria of love into a disrupting, invasive symphonic force.
The sentiments Repave visits are visceral, confusing, and, most importantly, very familiar. As Rosenau chimed after Volcano Choir bled through “Byegone,” “You guys get it. You get it.” And we do—-love is universally heavy. As Volcano Choir finished their main set, the stage lights stained Vernon red, and he crouched behind the podium with his head in his palms as his bandmates drifted off into an ambient requiem. Yep. We’ve all been there, buddy.
A few minutes later, Vernon approached the microphone and smirked. “If anyone did drugs tonight,” he said, “here is where your whole world is gonna change.” Breaking character a little bit, Volcano Choir launched into their rendition of “Woods” from Bon Iver’s 2009 EP Blood Bank.
Volcano Choir sold out the Fillmore, and the night’s poster depicted a bouquet of reeds growing in front of a sunset. It was appropriate; much like in Repave and the Fillmore’s show, overtures of deep hues highlighted the beauty of the natural.