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Volcano Choir @ Turner Hall Ballroom

March 26, 2011

Mar. 28, 2011
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The past few years have been good to Justin Vernon. As the man behind Bon Iver, the Wisconsin native has seen that group's two releases (2008's For Emma, Forever Ago and the 2009 EP Blood Bank) garner accolades and generate healthy sales; recorded and toured with the notable, Twin Cities-based super-group Gayngs; and received the stamp of approval from one of pop's biggest stars, when Kanye West asked him to contribute to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. Between those projects, Vernon also found time to team up with members of Milwaukee's Collections of Colonies of Bees to form Volcano Choir, a group that released its debut album, Unmap,in late 2009. Although the album was well received, Volcano Choir has only played a handful of shows in the year and a half before this weekend's somewhat subdued homecoming.

After a set from openers Mystery Palace, the cold-out crowd milled around, drinking and chatting, until the band's six members took the stage and were treated to a warm reception. The group's sound is a bit too complex to fit neatly under a generic category like freak-folk or indie-folk or something similarly reductive, but it does share those scenes' predilection for combining organic textures with electronics, something that comes through loud and clear when Vernon sings over his own looped-back voice, giving his already plaintive falsetto a deep richness. For the most part, the set oscillated between droning, atmospheric ambient pieces and more pop-oriented mid-tempo stompers, anchored by Jon Mueller's strong backbeat. After being onstage for a little over an hour, including a brief encore, the band made their exit, saying they'd like to keep playing, but they didn't have any more songs.

Even though there were a handful of sleepy moments, and at times the group seemed a little out of sync—perhaps inevitable, given how few shows they've performed together—the night was permeated by a casual, congenial feel, and lent extra positive vibes by the fact that they raised at least a few hundred dollars for the Japanese Red Cross' tsunami relief efforts through the sale of some limited-edition posters. It may not have felt momentous, but the band was clearly happy to be playing, and the crowd similarly pleased to be taking it all in.


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