Following the decision to release the most personal album ever made in A Crow Looked At Me Phil Elverum went out on tour as Mount Eerie playing these heartbroken songs in front of gasping audiences across the US and Europe. Though no recordings were allowed, someone taped one of the shows and here it is in all it's fragile glory. Now happily married again, we may not see this kind of naked songwriting again from Elverum so this is a vital document of that troubled time.
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This live performance comes in the midsts of Mount Eerie’s two records ‘A Crow Looked At Me’ and ‘Now Only’, which you’re probably well aware of by now. Majestic and devastating, these records got painfully close with grief, Phil Elverum moving away from his elemental and metaphorical songwriting style to create stream-of-consciousness meditations on the passing of his wife Geneviève Castrée. The live performances, often hosted in fitting resonant spaces, gave these songs an open shared space between Elverum and listener. I went to one, and it was like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. This one happened at Le Guess Who?, in Utrecht, in a similarly grandiose church setting.
In his deliberation over playing these songs live, and later releasing this record, Elverum notes that “foregrounded by the hyper-bare instrumentation (minimal acoustic guitar), the words burn brighter even than on the albums, more legible”. He’s absolutely right, and in their sparse rendition, he also points to the musical textures and songwriting decisions that made up ‘Crow’ and ‘Now Only’. The first record was occasionally described as being “amusical” or “barely” music, but here its plodding drum machines and local atmosphere are made profoundly absent. The very specifically arranged and sonically versatile ‘Now Only’ here has none of its decoration, and so the listless lyrics of songs like “Distortion” feel entirely different.
The reality is that this must have been an incredibly trying experience for Elverum, and there’s no use weaving narrative into those things he himself can weave no narrative into. But when I saw him he described playing these songs as “nice”, and notes that these “ultra-intimate songs” here “live in the real world among peoples’ wide eyed accepting silence, and clapping”. Those are features of the record as much as anything -- this live space is its own unique thing, a different context for these songs, that here echo out, between people and ears.
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