Phil Elverum, aka Mount Eerie, made the trip from Washington State to Auckland to sing the heartbreaking songs that make up his most recent album, A Crow Looked At Me. Those songs all address, very directly, the death of his wife in 2016 and the devastation Elverum has felt as he carries on while raising their young daughter.
This was always going to be the kind of show where one needed to brace oneself emotionally before facing both these songs and its composer. No doubt Elverum has to go through even more of a process before performing the songs in front of an audience.
When he took the stage, with only his acoustic guitar as company, he paused, drew a breath and began with…”Death is real, someone’s there and then they’re not. And it’s not for singing about, it’s not for making into art.”
The song, Real Death, is the leadoff track from A Crow Looked At Me, and as you can tell, it pulls no punches, wrestling with the subject of loss and grieving head-on. As the song progresses, he addresses his late wife directly, “A week after you died, a package with your name on it came, and inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret”.
This format of writing in the second person, directly to his wife, artist and musician Genevieve Gosselin, is how most of the songs on the album were written.
There are no choruses, no middle eights, no hooks or other traditional song structures, just an outpouring of deeply personal lyrics accompanied by Elverum’s acoustic guitar. The effect is that of listening to him read out diary entries. There are times when the content is so raw, so personal, that the audience could very well feel uncomfortable, as if they are overhearing thoughts that should remain private. The words are both exquisite and excruciating.
Elverum only spoke to the audience a few times. When he did, one could tell that the audience was hoping for a little light relief, something to break through the blackness, but instead he told us that he just learned that his 95 year old grandmother had died and that tomorrow was his daughter’s birthday.
The set consisted of a dozen songs. The first half dedicated to the latest album, and the final six, all new songs, most of which will be included in an EP, titled Now Only, due out soon.
But it was the final song that really had the audience listening closely.
Elverun introduced Fear as a song with “kind of a twist” and “it’s really embarrassing”. It’s a new song that is not on the EP and this may have been its live premiere.
Unlike the other 11 tunes heard tonight, this one was addressed to a woman named Alison, a close friend who Elverum apparently had a relationship with shortly after the death of his wife.
Again, the singer pulls no punches as he documents the beginning and messy end to the affair, with emotion that is still raw.
When the song came to an end, there was applause, but no call for an encore. Perhaps I’m reading too much into things, but it felt to me as if it would be unfairly cruel to ask the artist to once again dig into his soul and sing another one of these songs.
Having said that, I can only admire and appreciate the courage it must take to stand in front of a roomful of strangers and bare your soul as Phil Elverum has done. I hope it helps him and those who listen to him.
Mount Eerie set list:
- Real Death
- My Chasm
- Tintin In Tibet
- Now Only
- Crow, Pt.2