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Photos by CJ Foeckler. Sophomore album, Repave, rerouted the trajectory of Volcano Choir, a band made up of past and present members of local post-rock group Collections of Colonies of Bees and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon. The album did away with much of the obliqueness of its predecessor, in favor of a more accessible rise […]


Photos by CJ Foeckler.

Sophomore album, Repave, rerouted the trajectory of Volcano Choir, a band made up of past and present members of local post-rock group Collections of Colonies of Bees and Bon Iver frontman Justin Vernon. The album did away with much of the obliqueness of its predecessor, in favor of a more accessible rise and fall of build-ups and pay-offs. The cover art—a wave peaking in the ocean—provides a good metaphor for the cyclical nature of the music. Volcano Choir is nearing the end of its own cycle, and it’s perhaps fitting that Milwaukee, where the band kicked off its tour a few blocks away at the Pabst Theater almost 13 months ago, would play host to the ceremonious conclusion of the Repave tour.

No opening act was announced prior to the show, which didn’t seem that odd—unknown openers get thrown in last minute all the time—until the Pabst Theater Organization tweeted that a surprise guest would fill the spot a couple hours before showtime. The secret was somehow kept quiet until the doors opened, but the merch table, which had suspiciously laid out Sylvan Esso products for sale, was a dead give-away. Regardless, when the electro-pop duo eventually took the stage, a spark of excitement hit the Turner Hall Ballroom crowd and a palpable twinge of envy could be felt from anyone outside that was scrolling jealously through their Twitter feed.

Sylvan Esso delivered its dance-floor ready hits in spectacular fashion, playing almost every cut from its self-titled debut. The glitchy, bass-heavy tunes seemed better suited for the standing-room-only venue than its last stop here at the tiered, seated Pabst Theater. Surprise openers rarely make sense, but the inclusion of Sylvan Esso to the night’s homecoming festivities felt spot-on. It was Volcano Choir, after all, that took Sylvan Esso out on the road as openers when the duo first started playing together. Everything had come full-circle.

Volcano Choir’s performance, deservedly, felt like a victory lap. “This is the best time of our lives,” guitarist Chris Rosenau said. The ethereal sonic landscape emanating from the seven-piece band combined with Vernon’s falsetto hardly sounds like celebration music, but the general exuberance with which these songs were played gave them renewed energy. Volcano Choir was not only performing for a hometown crowd but also for their moms—and even the three Japanese men that got the band to tour in the first place, who flew in for the show.

For all the excitement, the audience remained somewhat collected—cheering when appropriate, staying hushed when the moment called for it. “You were silent during ‘Alaskans,’” Rosenau said of the stripped-down, tranquil song. “We need the exact opposite right now.”

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The audience erupted upon hearing the opening notes to “Byegone,” which features the band’s most epic crescendo. “Set sail,” Vernon exclaimed at the climax, which felt like a rallying cry and also a goodbye. It remains to be seen whether Volcano Choir will record another album and embark on another tour. This could very well have been the band’s final performance.

With Sylvan Esso playing the unlikely openers, it was a special one to see.

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