Live Review and Photos: Mount Eerie, September 16, 2012, Le Poisson Rouge – New York, NY

All photos by Sam Clarke

The appropriateness of including a fake fireplace and coffee pot amongst Mount Eerie’s stage set up was not lost on bandleader Phil Elverum. “We’re from the Pacific Northwest,” he laughed. While a simple face value statement at best, and a castoff joke in the context that Elverum uttered it on Sunday night, the importance of such a fact is intertwined in an understanding of the central importance of place to Elverum’s latest works. While Anacortes, Washington–Elverum’s hometown–has long remained a point of focus in his songwriting output, no clearer has this come into focus than on “Through The Trees Pt. 2.” This Clear Moon opener (and set opener on Sunday night), functions as a stately reflection on his literal surroundings. It’s only appropriate that as this mood is set musically that Elverum, backed here by a crack team of multi-instrumentalists, it’s simultaneous nodded at by these onstage props. In what’s likely the most nightclub-y venue that this Mount Eerie tour is set to hit, Elverum’s brought a piece of home to accompany these ruminations on the idea of home.

So then Elverum shared with us, both in these meaningful meditations on his conceptions of domesticity that mark Clear Moon and the nightmarish apparitions that infest Ocean Roar. Past Mount Eerie tours have found Elverum interpreting these tracks for keyboard and guitar solely, but on Sunday night, they took the full muscle of his black metal-leanings. Even “Clear Moon,” the titular track from his first release of this year found new force behind the weight of two Sunn O))) series amps and a live drummer. Three part harmonies weaved their way through the fuzz, here and otherwise, providing sweet refuge from the serrated edges with which Elverum chopped at these tracks.

Nowhere was this approach more apparent than in the band’s latest interpretations of “Who?”. Elverum mentioned subsequently that they’d been playing it differently every night, and in the two takes that the band dove through, the dichotomy of Elverum’s recent releases–and this live performance–was most evidently distilled. First, a folky rendition, pinned up with swaths of keyboard. The quiet singalong of the night, the familiar old tune, the meandering crowd pleaser. A moment that none in the crowd would soon forget, if not for what followed. After letting the crowd know that “[they’re] about to do something weird,” Elverum and co. tore through a blackened version of the song, “Samurai Sword” in its arrangement, if still rural and existential in its lyrical content. Elverum on his twelve string conjured visions of Burzum and Neige, though still grounded in the brilliant lyricism that marks his career old and new. Two versions of “Who?,” two sides of Mount Eerie the live band. The patent plodder, the enveloping monster. It’s a rise and fall that while often celebrated within the microcosm of a single song, is rarely — if ever — praised on the scale to which Mount Eerie endeavored on Sunday.

From the booming “Pale Lights” to the slinking “Lone Bell,” and on through the finger snaps that close out “I Walked Home Beholding,” Mount Eerie played the ups and downs of their recent material with all the finesse of a veteran band trekking through old hits. Despite all the efforts of an inspiringly incompetent set of listless meanderings from avant-garde guitar legend Loren Connors opening the night’s proceedings, the focus of the night was wholly upon Elverum and his merry crew. Though past performances may have instilled a restlessness upon those gathered, not so this go around. With this iteration, nary an eye wanders, no chatter abounds, only voices raised and rattling odes to the night sky mark the circumstance. Time passes, coffee is consumed, fake firewood burns and with the rattle and clang of a real rock band Mount Eerie ascends to its rightful place at the emotional center of the artistic consciousness of the room.

Loren Connors