Mt. Erie Is a Place, and So Is Mount Eerie: Live at (Le) Poisson Rouge, 11/28/12

on Dec 2, 2012

Phil Elverum’s dedication to his work is apparent in a number of ways. For evidence, look no further than the instrument in his hands tonight; tuning a twelve-string guitar takes more time and patience than tuning a standard six-string. Witness also his schedule. This is Mount Eerie’s second visit to New York City and (Le) Poisson Rouge in as many months. In September they were making the national rounds, but this stop is different. “We’re not on tour,” Eleverum notes to the audience while telling them about the next night’s show at NYU, sounding surprised to say it. Three thousand miles is a long way to travel for a two-night residency in the West Village.  

Same as with the September shows (they also played 285 Kent Ave on that tour), tonight’s set focuses on pulling together Mount Eerie’s two complimentary soon-to-be year-end list toppers in a way that coherently translates into a live experience. Sequencing-wise, this means stitching some linear stretches (starting with the first few songs from Clear Moon) of the two records together, and some other shuffling of the deck. Execution-wise, aside from the impossibility of recreating the massive sound of Elverum’s recording space, the five musicians making up this live iteration do it sincere justice, and conjure the clarity and confusion of both records. If ‘a sense of place’ is one of Mount Eerie’s abiding focuses (and it is), the cavernous de-sanctified church that Elverum renamed The Unknown and set up his analog recording equipment inside of is a physical realization of that focus.

photo courtesy of Bryan Williams
In addition to the two albums, there also exists a 7” of Clear Moon and Ocean Roar condensed. Each side has all the songs from its respective LP playing on top of each other. The concept sounds like a prank or gimmick, but it genuinely works in a peculiar way. Each ‘song’ captures something akin to the aura of its respective album. The hum of “Clear Moon” is warmer; “Ocean Roar” is more violent. They both function similar to how, say, all the individual cheering voices in a crowded stadium form that singular voice-of-humanity tone when heard all at once.

Mount Eerie’s last three releases are something like culminations of long-building themes in Elverum’s music catalog, which now numbers in the hundreds of songs; a body of work that is its own forest to wander and get lost in (and that’s not mentioning his writing, photography, and other pursuits). There are thicker threads stitching his quilt together than the commonly identified “nature,” or the somewhat more apt (if also more vague) aforementioned “sense of place,” but those are proper places to start. They would also make easy jumping off points for generating bad made-up genre names, like “tree-gaze” or “old-growth school,” if that’s your thing.

Stopping short of generating a proper word cloud, to get an idea of where the journey has been wandering to date, it’s a worthwhile exercise to just add up the numbers, not interpret them. Three elemental forces for change in the known living world have now come in to focus over the last three sequential Mount Eerie records: wind, moon, ocean.  These three things have been name-dropped in numerous Elverum songs since he started recording them under his previous nom de plume, The Microphones. Here’s an incomplete accounting…

- Wind’s Poem has “Wind’s Dark Poem” and “Wind Speaks”, but there has also been “I Want Wind to Blow”, "I Lost My Wind", “The Breeze.”

- Clear Moon has “Clear Moon”, but this one has come up a bunch: “The Moon”, "Moon Moon", "Moon, Moon, Moon", “Moon Sequel”, “Moon, I Already Know”, “(2 Moons)”, “In Moonlight.”

- Ocean Roar has “Ocean Roar” and “Waves”, but, again…“Ocean”, “Ocean 1, 2, 3”, “The Same Ocean”, “This is the Same Ocean”, “Over Dark Water”, “Log in the Waves.”

Of course, there has also been the ‘glow’ theme, with The Microphones’ legend-status-securing The Glow Pt. 2, and the various songs about glowing and gleaming and such. What will the next Mount Eerie album focus on? "Air" or "Cold" might be good guesses (see “I’ll Be in the Air”, “You Were in the Air”, “You’ll Be in the Air”, “The Air in the Morning", and “I’m Getting Cold”, “I Want to Be Cold”, “Cold Mountain”,  “Cold Mountain’s Song #286”).

If you’re wondering where the sun fits in to all of this, it is his business partner: the label he runs is called P.W. Elverum & Sun, Ltd.

photo courtesy of Bryan Williams
At the heart of the fixation with change, of course, sits a mountain. No more seemingly static a physical body exists on Earth. But, of course, mountains are constantly shifting, rising, and collapsing. Elverum, in his music, continuously reflects on temporality and impermanence, but he’s also a fourth or fifth generation resident of a town with a metropolitan population of roughly 15,000 – one that, despite its own innate charm, is utilized by non-residents predominantly as a gateway to the farther-out tourist destination San Juan Islands. Like every other pioneer settlement that sprang up on the eastern shores of Puget Sound in the gold rush era, Anacortes once sought to be the terminus for the transcontinental railroad. Its cumulative raison d’etre lies somewhere between being a destination and a stop along the way. The oddly phonetic name comes from a place of personal romance; for Annie Curtis, wife of the geologist who founded the nascent outpost’s post office.

The band reaches back into the Microphones’ catalog for one song tonight. “The Moon” is a fan favorite and back catalog stand out, but its selection might owe more to being a prominent ‘moon’ song, fitting with the new records (it’s a shame there won’t be a ‘Tides’ box set of the two together). Notably, it doesn’t sound like it does on The Glow Pt. 2, it sounds like Mount Eerie covering it. Seems obvious to say, but technically it’s not a cover. The edges of “The Moon” are blurrier, as if reconstructing the barreling momentum of the original from the memory of a dream. After one more, the band leave the stage for all of two minutes and come back for a one-song encore, obliging the woman who beseeches them to “make us move” with what amounts to a straight up funk song for the band, coaxing the reverent heads across the floor to nod a little harder.