Mount Eerie fans arrived at Christ Church Cathedral yesterday evening (August 18) with tissues and handkerchiefs; they were prepared. Project mastermind Phil Elverum had arrived in the city to perform songs from A Crow Looked at Me, an album that chronicles the illness and passing of his Elverum's late wife, Quebecois artist and musician, Geneviève Castrée Elverum.
Before Elverum took to the stage, Vancouverite Nicholas Krgovich debuted his new ensemble to play jazz-inflected tracks. Louise Burns joined him on backing vocals, sweetening Krgovich's downtrodden songs. The ensemble's sound filled the cathedral, its acoustics the perfect arena for their delicate percussion, keys and bass clarinet.
"Are you ready to cry?" was a question that filtered through the room before Phil Elverum entered the stage with his acoustic guitar, keeping his comments to the audience minimal. To the uninitiated, Elverum's songs may have seemed overly wordy, but the cyclical beauty of his guitar playing, coupled with his incredibly evocative writing, held the audience in his spell.
The songs on A Crow Looked at Me are so very personal and expository that it made it feel like a deeply privileged experience to witness them live. Elverum transported audience members to his hometown of Anacortes, Washington, and the home that he and his daughter share — and where his wife lived and died. From an Australian flight to his first meeting with his wife when she lived in Victoria, there was a sense of movement and place to the songs, which are rooted in natural imagery. Sniffling was heard in the crowd as Elverum's gentle voice narrated the immense grief of his experience with such detail.
After performing the bulk of the album, he introduced a set of new songs; even one that elicited laughs from the audience (a snapshot of touring the album at the same festival as Skrillex). These concluding songs acknowledged the fading echo of Geneviève's presence in the Elverum household, in contrast with the reminder of her in Elverum's daughter.
The intimacy of Elverum's offering at Christ Church Cathedral was welcomed, as difficult as it was to confront A Crow Looked at Me's stark lyricism. Mount Eerie's coastal journey of grief will resonate with attendees of last night's show for years to come. The truth and beauty of Elverum's words was undeniable, the emotion palpable.