“I brought tissues.” That’s what the girl next to me told her friends as she reached into her bag and started dishing out Kleenex. At any other show, the action might have been silly, but not tonight. Tonight, Volcano Choir, the spectacular collaboration between Bon Iver and Collections of Colonies of Bees, took the Neptune Theater by storm. Between their kaleidoscope lyrics and the vast, overtaking instrumentation, the night was ripe with artistic mastery and brotherly affection. Tonight was the last night of the western leg of their tour in support of sophomore LP together Repave, and in honor of the event, the band threw everything they had on the table to make for one hell of a finale. Together with Minneapolis rock band The Cloak Ox, Volcano Choir brought the joy and brought the tears with their west coast wrap-up, and the feeling throughout was just too incredible for words.
The Cloak Ox opened up with a an awesome forty minute set that set the mood in the room perfectly and brought everyone to the emotional verge before Volcano Choir even took the stage. Andrew Broder and his four piece rock group make some pretty marvelous music. Members of the group are quite familiar with the indie folk and Americana scene at this point, playing with bands like WHY?, Fog, and Andrew Bird. But together as the Cloak Ox, we see these four bring each other’s strengths to the forefront. In 2013, they released their sophomore LP together called Shoot The Dog, hosting many of the favored cuts from tonight’s excellent set. From the meandering groove of “Wax Museum” to the bass-heavy driving energy of “Pigeon Lung” to the stellar, scorching closer “Yesterday’s Me”, Cloak Ox continued turning heads all evening. Both Broder and lead guitarist Jeremy Ylvisaker laid down murderous guitar solos for “Yesterday’s Me”, leaving jaws on the floor and Volcano Choir (Vernon especially) head-banging along off to the side of the stage. The Cloak Ox prepped the crowd perfectly for tonight’s headlining act and drew in more than a couple new fans in the process.
The Cloak Ox:
As lights dropped for Volcano Choir, Thomas Winceck walked to his keyboard setup and started in on the organ intro to “Tiderays”. The place exploded, but the organ continued even after applause diminished. Laying a foundation for the sound, Winceck did his job without the slightest hint of hurry, making every added note count as the Neptune filled with sound. Finally, soft blue light appeared at the back of the stage, lighting the rope masterpiece adorning the back wall just right to look like an impressionist wonder. At times, it was the Repave album cover, waves crashing this way and that like a sea of opportunity. Other times, it was a green wall of mountains, adorning the stage with a divine backdrop. Regardless, as the rest of Volcano Choir followed Winceck in and Chris Rosenau started in on that now infamous guitar lick, the room was in a glorious daze. We’d all been waiting quite some time for this moment, and now, Unmap and Repave were here, live, breaking us down and building us up again all as one.
No single member of Volcano Choir really showed up any other. Vernon, being undoubtedly the most famous facet of the team, stood behind a station decorated akin to the rope piece behind the band. Here, he controlled all of the vocoder and vocal synthesizers that allowed his smokey baritone and his angelic falsetto to both become a tidal wave of sound on every track. But the design was a brilliant setup – it allowed him to blend into the color and the shape created by Volcano Choir as a unit, as opposed to being the adored frontman of an otherwise faceless group. If anyone stole the show with personality, it was Chris Rosenau. Wearing every emotion on his sleeve and letting every brilliant guitar hook pierce his own soul as well as those around him, Rosenau was a spiritual inspiration on stage, not to mention a pretty bitchin’ example of guitar genius. Gyrating between the quiet wonder of acoustic cuts like “Alaskans” to the math-rock induced non-album scorcher “Valleyonaire”, Rosenau was a man possessed. Similarly impressing on our hearts was drummer Jon Mueller, who made every tom, every snare, and every cymbal feel like a separate conviction. For “Dancepack”, he provided the all-encompassing heartbeat for a longing soul as Vernon cried out “Take note, there’s still a hole in your heart”. On “Still”, he was the anticipation, the loss, and the wandering all packed into one man – a truly incredible feat given the sweeping power of this Unmap track.
To celebrate their final show of this leg of the tour, Volcano Choir brought Andrew Broder of The Cloak Ox up to help sing “Alaskans”, the pinnacle of the Repave album and maybe the emotional crux of Volcano Choir as a group. The room dropped to a dead silence as Rosenau picked away at the haunting, fleeting guitar whisperings and Vernon and Broder belted out this brutal ballad. The only time the crowd pierced the air was to sing, in perfect unison, “rely, rely, rely, rely, behave, behave, behave…” before fading out again in respectful silence. The emotion was overpowering – tears dropped from eyes both on and off the stage all around as joyful smiles broke out at the end of it. The band looked around at each other like they’d experienced something altogether unexpected – I guess we all knew what was coming, but it’s still a wonder to be able to feel a wordless love like this one collectively.
Silence and meditation turned to a wave of passion for Repave single “Byegone”. Jeremy Ylvisaker joined the band on guitar to make “Still” a climactic explosion before the group broke for an encore. Finally, Volcano Choir wrapped up their tour with a double shot of emotional magnificence on divine reditions of both album closers “Almanac” and “Youlogy”. As they bade goodbye to the crowd, they left with smiles and hugs and kisses all around. Volcano Choir is a band truly unlike any other. Where others are a never-ending struggle of power between members and a tireless trek towards an unknown future, being with Volcano Choir is a reprieve, where both the band and the crowd appreciate the moment for what it is and look forward towards the horizon with a glimmer of hope and a knowledge that your friends are close behind. That’s something you don’t get at the Neptune every day.