Live Review

Volcano Choir, Barbican, London

It’d be easy to focus on the band’s frontman but unlike his day job, Volcano Choir isn’t just Vernon’s baby.

Backed by the ensemble that comprise the other six members of Wisconsin’s Volcano Choir and a backdrop that can only be described as an abstract moonscape rendered in sack material, frontman Justin Vernon tonight plays the part of indie-rock prophet; half-crazed preacherman waving his limbs in time to the ambient post-folk soundtrack from behind an on stage pulpit. It’s a heady experience, and half a world away from the cabin-creak confessionals that peppered the record that catapulted Vernon to fame as the creative force behind Bon Iver five years ago. If ‘For Emma…Forever Ago’ and the sparsely beautiful live performances that followed its release were Vernon learning to crawl, side project Volcano Choir’s latest ‘Repave’ and this performance is him at full cross country sprint.

Each time Vernon’s trademark falsetto makes an appearance it sets sparks of electricity vaulting through the room. ‘Keel’ in particular gives the frontman the opportunity to really let fly with the high jazz vocal lines, over looped drones and tinkling piano. His purring baritone too, is a treat for the ears: “He’s a legend, I’m a legend” he murmurs, to an explosion of applause and whooping during ‘Byegone’, right before the track explodes.

It’d be easy to focus on the band’s frontman but unlike his day job, Volcano Choir isn’t just his baby. The rhythm section in particular are given more of the spotlight live than on record, firing out booming percussive passages that get heads nodding in defiance of the all-seater arrangement, a barrier to lesser bands. Counter this with the ambient sections which pepper tonight’s set and the inclusion of a distorted and drunken Charles Bukowski sample and you have a hint of the wide aperture that Volcano Choir are working with.

The true standouts however are reserved for right at the end of the set. Firstly the stunning rendition of ‘Still’ which ends the set proper, spliced together with Bon Iver’s ‘Woods’; and ‘Almanac, the first of a two-song encore. This, their first Barbican performance is a triumph for Volcano Choir.

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