No Context: Mt. Eerie


No Context by Zach Baron

Mount Eerie
Lutheran Church of the Messiah
Thursday November 8th

“I would like to fulfill the pregnant night — whatever that means,” goes Mount Eerie fan favorite and last night’s show closer, “Where?” As a riff on the performer himself, “Where?” is pretty advanced, a semantic stagger between “Mount Eerie,” the band that’s a front for one Phil Elverum, and “Mount Erie,” the mountain for which his band and his hometown in Anacortes, Washington are named:

“Where is Mount Eerie and how do I get there
And how long is the walk and what should I bring?”
Mount Eerie is nowhere.
Mount Eerie is playing tonight.
“Where is the concert and will it be all ages?
What time are doors?
And how much does it cost?”
The concert is nowhere.
There is only one sky.

Also referenced here is Elverum’s 2003 swapping out of his Microphones alias for that of Mount Eerie, which even at the time was described as make-believe: “In 2002 I went on an endless tour and stopped for the winter in northern Norway and died. The next spring I returned and pretended I was a different person and a different ‘band’ and ‘artist’ and ‘singer’ and everything.”

As it happens, the concert was in Greenpoint, it was all ages, and I’m pretty sure it cost 8 dollars.

Features of the earth mentioned in lyric: valleys, mountain wind, the sea, night air, white air, lonely, lonely night, dawn, a satiated bear, the world, racing clouds, ocean squalls, storms.

Features of the earth projected at the back of the stage: the moon over a dock in a lake, ferns on a rocky slope, a foundry, mist hanging over mountains and trees, trees blowing in wind and snow, craggy peaks covered in clouds. Bonus rim-shot: footage of the band SunnO))).

The projections were among other things a product tie-in, for Elverum’s new Mount Eerie Pts. 6 & 7 — a double-sided ten-inch with two great songs on it, 132 pages of colorful photographs (preview here), and a book-style dust jacket. On it, Elverum mostly forgoes the plangent strumming for which he is loved in favor of piano-progressions, palm-muted shredding, dive-bomb pick slides, background operatic choruses, organ-sustains, and rattling percussion. And here is another contradiction attendant to the many that come attached to Mount Eerie: though the eighteen-year-old kids who pack his shows beg and beg for his older, man-and-a-guitar odes to nature, he hasn’t recorded a song fitting that particular bill since his Microphones days. Newer songs allude to that sound without conforming to it — too much noise, too many quirks, too abrupt, no choruses, etc.

New York has always seemed like fraught territory for Mount Eerie. A guy who loves nature this much, well, Brooklyn may be an awful place. The projected video at which Elverum gazed constantly, even though it was behind him, was a long time coming: a crutch, a way to get his mind right in order to sing odes to a dark that doesn’t even really exist within our city limits.

Before him his wife, the artist and illustrator Geneviève Castrée, who performs as Woelv, had bragged that her voice could “do the things little Simba can do in the French version of the Lion King,,” and both played in bare feet. Both incorporated heavy, off-beat breathing into their vocals; both often swallowed their words even as they emerged; both had arch, formal thank-yous for their adoring crowd: “Thank you for listening to me play these songs.” Neither, one guesses, is particularly fragile in a real life, offstage sense. And as irritating as the affect can sometimes be, to grownups anyway, it’s part of their project. How much of the traditional onstage pose can they strip away? What’s the least vocal and guitar combination that still results in a song?

As for “Where?,” Elverum wanted the crowd to sing along, but with time running out, he skipped actually sharing the lyrics with the audience, and went for telepathy instead: “Log on to my brain. I’m completely open. No password or anything. When you pull down the AirPort thing, it’s ‘Mount Eerie Concert555.’”