Saint Luke’s, Glasgow
On my way to witness Mount Eerie playing Saint Luke’s, what I knew would be a sensational performance, I discussed with my friends how A Crow Looked At Me, the latest album by Phil Elverum (the artist behind the moniker Mount Eerie and previously The Microphones), was an anomaly within the music world.
It falls more perfectly into the realm of art than music and, further than that, more perfectly into the category of ‘pure truth’ than either of the latter suggestions; the 2017 concept album was written and recorded entirely within the room in which Elverum’s late wife and mother of their young daughter passed away.
Never have I witnessed a more silent room than the moment at which Elverum enters the picturesque and angelically lit church stage from the small door with symmetrical wooden tiles. The whole venue, seated, lowers itself from an already quiet ensemble of emotionally unprepared fans to a room no longer of humans, but of 200 individual embodiments of sympathy (and melancholic attempts at empathy) as we glance upon the weary but kind face of a man still deeply devastated by the passing of someone he held dearly. No one knew if we should cheer or not. Would it be right? It feels like we’re commodifying one man’s deep emotional trauma – can we justifiably cheer at that? He smiles and says “Hi”; we cheer.
The prosaic nature with which ideas surrounding death are so intimately tackled on the album translate better than beautifully into a live format; Phil’s boyish voice gently plays over the melodic and surprisingly intricate acoustic guitar work, which is simultaneous to his vocal storytelling.
Silence from the crowd returns as Phil picks up his guitar and lightly strums it before playing an unreleased song with lyrical mention of the dead bodies he has been in the presence of (his grandfather and his wife), a pregnancy scare he faced when just 23, and a Jack Kerouac documentary. Despite the overall depressed tone, he doesn’t refrain from a great use of humour in his lyrics, or sung prose.
After this fantastic new song, he dives into a careful selection of songs from A Crow Looked At Me, including ‘Real Death’, ‘Seaweed’ and ‘Two Ravens’. The emotional power of his soft voice singing such personal stories and thoughts brings many audience members to tears; I, certainly, well up slightly with lines such as: “You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you.” Throughout the 45 minute long set there isn’t the slightest sound from the audience (save the very occasional hugely muffled splutter or cough) while the entire church is fixated undistractedly on Phil; it is as if he is giving an incredibly insightful sermon on the reality of death and the nature of human existence.
It really is a privilege to experience such an intimate performance of music, art and truth. Mount Eerie truly is something everyone should witness.
Image: UT Connewitz Photo Crew, Flickr