‘I sing to you’: Mount Eerie live

Review of Mount Eerie live in Vancouver at the Vogue Theatre
Mount Eerie Live

If one were to describe Mount Eerie’s show at the Vogue Theatre last night in a single word, the word on everybody’s mind would likely be reverence. With a closed balcony and seated show floor those walking in were greeted by an immediate idea of what was to come, seeing only a vocal microphone, an instrument microphone, and Phil Elverum’s guitar seated atop its canary yellow hard body case. Show-goers knew that this was going to be an evening dedicated to the art this man has created out what could likely be called the most difficult times of his life. But in the time before the set begun people were not wondering what Elverum could possibly be doing backstage to prepare for his set because there was no mystery, he was fully visible, selling his CDs and records like he must have countless times before at venues markedly smaller than this one in his home state of Washington. However, this didn’t stop many show-goers from going wide-eyed seeing him so close and not onstage. Through the starshock people were kind simply buying their merchandise and thanking him, met often with a “you’re welcome” or just an affirming nod.

Starting not long after the scheduled set time, Elverum was greeted by warm welcoming applause. Donning his guitar and softly intonating a “hello,” the show started from that moment, continued with fervour, and seemingly stopped only to end after what this young writer can say was the most emotionally draining show of their life. Opening with the first track from his recently released record Now Only, the song titled ‘Tintin in Tibet’ set the message of the performance so strongly it’s as if it was at centre stage next to Elverum. The opening line gently stating, ‘I sing to you, I sing to you, Geneviève’ and sing to her he did. Playing songs from his most recent release as well as selections from his critically-acclaimed 2017 release A Crow Looked At Me, all eyes were on this man on the cusp of forty working through the true unshakeable grief of losing the person you love the most in this world. Elverum bore the most inner workings of himself on these records and playing them live are a visibly difficult place for him to be in some ways. With eyes shut for minutes at a time and never quite looking into the crowd he played some songs lasting up to eleven minutes but each and every show-goer absolutely locked into the music and pain he was communicating barely batted an eye as he played. One moment that truly stood out was one in which the room shared a laugh and it seemed to create a wash of emotional release. Partway through the song ‘Distortion’ Elverum added a line about his reading the bible at his grandfather’s funeral about how he was eight, his family didn’t go to church, and that his interpretation of the written word was innocently literal. He smiled and looked out at the crowd as people who so often bonded over his music being remarkably sad, laughed, and shared in some happiness together. Another marked moment was the entire verse of the track ‘Now Only’ about feeling like he’s been left on the side of the road on a desert highway. Bringing home the extended metaphor the track carries of him feeling all too out of place playing a festival in the desert singing songs about his dead wife. Living the metaphor every night as we see him, onstage singing to her.

About halfway through the set he simply said “thanks,” and after that the next thing heard from him outside of a song was “I’m going to play one more song, thank you for all of this attention.” Though he had just finished a song and the crowd had applauded, they did again, collectively knowing that this was the only way they could respectfully convey their thanks for his attendance. This was not a show of woops and shouts, but one of quiet appreciation for a single artists outpouring of emotion. Elverum’s only accompaniment was that of the stage lighting, that being said it could not have been utilised better. Elverum at the mentions of many things occurring in the natural world such as the forest fires that ravaged the Pacific Northwest in 2016 to stars or even sunsets was washed in representations of these things by the lighting. Forest fires turned the stage and room deep red, stars twinkled across the lights at random intervals, and the sunset arced across them all in warm pinks. This seemed to propel him as he sang into each and every moment as it occurred, washed with the greens of the forest, the deep blues of water, or what can only be interpreted as a soul leaving the room, Elverum steeped in emotionality and light, sung to his wife. At the end of an hour, he almost wordlessly thanked the crowd once more, set his guitar down, and walked offstage. Clapping continued for up to a minute after he walked off and after that it seemed as though the room had been collectively stunned. Sitting in their chairs, working through what they just heard. Some cried and others stood up hands shaking but many wordlessly left their seats to leave this room that was now filled with an air completely different from when they walked in.

Those with a keen eye as they left the theatre could see Elverum, back at the merch booth selling CDs and records, and those bold enough would walk up and simply say ‘thank you,’ shake hands, and be met with thanks of their own.

A Live Review By Maguire Stevens