Mount Eerie | Nicholas Krgovich Foam Coffee & Beer October 1, 2011
Last evening raised a few questions. Chief among them: when the heck did Mount Eerie get so popular? Granted, Phil Elverum has been at it for more than a decade now, first with the Microphones and now with his current project, and very few musicians deserve the attention more. But when he and Julie Doiron played the Lemp Neighborhood Arts Center three years ago, there couldn't have been more than 40 people at the show. Last night, there were rumors of a sell-out and warnings to get there early. Sure enough, there was a line outside of Foam when I arrived. In the end, it was a nicely full house but not quite a packed one.
After an opening set by local band Frances with Wolves, Elverum and Nicholas Krgovich began setting up two keyboard rigs. This in itself was unusual; neither Elverum nor his many collaborators go for electronics very often. As it happens, Vancouver, B.C.-based Krgovich (usually of No Kids) specializes in a sound that can only be classified as lite-funk. His keyboard sounds are not the harsh electronics of the Wax Trax! roster, nor the retro-futuristic Moog bleeps and bloops of Stereolab and Broadcast, but straight-up late '70s Quiet Storm-esque electric piano. Krgovich sang in a blue-eyed soul tone somewhere between David Sylvian and Ariel Pink. Occasionally he sang through a vocoder. This was all a little jarring when applied to cover songs by Jim Reeves ("He'll Have To Go") and John Martyn ("Go Easy"), but it worked. His own songs were often quite wistful despite the dancy rhythms, frequently incorporating Southern Californian imagery into the lyrics -- Griffith Park, Santa Ana winds and the like. It was an unlikely combination. It certainly pleased the Foam crowd, many of whom began dancing halfway through his set.
Still, it gave one pause: had Elverum adopted this technique for Mount Eerie? His records, as expansive and subtly produced as they are, still tend to be guitar and vocal oriented in nature. All fears were allayed with Elverum unpacked his Kay hollow-body electric guitar. After asking the crowd if they were now "ready to stand there," Krgovich and fellow No Kid Julia Chirka took their places behind their respective synth rigs, and the Mount Eerie portion of the evening began.
Mount Eerie's music makes the most sense if you've ever been to Anacortes, Washington. It's a mini-cultural center, boasting a record store, a yearly music festival and a long-standing music community. Yet it's way off the beaten path from Seattle or Vancouver. Leaving I-5 and driving across Route 20, it's easy to be struck by the sheer isolation of the place, and the raw, majestic beauty of the surrounding mountains and trees. This is where Elverum was born and raised, and where he still lives. It's also an apt description of what the music he has made with Mount Eerie and the Microphones sounds like: An echoey call from an island in the northwestern tip of the contiguous United States.
At Foam, Krgovich and Chirka played behind Elverum, adding an almost imperceptible depth to his simple guitar chords and soft-spoken lyrics. The songs, mostly new, almost invariably started out with small moments -- a trip to the beach, a quiet night after recording, a late evening without sleep. Quickly, however, they plunged into deeper, more abstract and disturbing territory, almost invariably ending cold. At least two of the songs ended up with Elverum, or the narrator, waking up from a bad dream, trying to make sense of his thoughts. At their best, Mount Eerie's recordings have a certain stark majesty, and it's to Elverum and company's credit that they were able to approximate this so well in the back of a bar/coffee shop out here in the Midwest.