See­ing Mount Eerie in con­cert

Mount Eerie shares har­row­ing por­trait of life af­ter death

The McGill Daily - - Contents - Vic­tor Redko Cul­ture Writer

Con­tent warn­ing: men­tion of death, drugs, and de­scrip­tion of grief

Geneviève Cas­trée was a car­toon­ist and poet who worked pri­mar­ily with the Mon­treal-based L’oie de Cra­van and Drawn & Quar­terly pub­lish­ers. She was also a tal­ented mu­si­cian in the U.S. Pa­cific North­west, where she moved af­ter mar­ry­ing Phil Elverum of The Mi­cro­phones and Mount Eerie fame. It is also where she recorded un­der the name Woelv and then Ô PAON. Af­ter a fif­teen-year ca­reer, and not long af­ter the birth of her and Elverum’s only child, Geneviève Cas­trée was di­ag­nosed with can­cer. She passed away in July 2016, and eight and a half months later, Elverum re­leased A Crow Looked At Me.

All eleven tracks on Crow are about Cas­trée, and the lyrics make quite clear the in­ten­sity and depth of his grief. Lis­ten­ing to the al­bum is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. It is full of the painful sur­prises that Elverum him­self en­coun­tered (“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. / And col­lapsed there on the front steps I wailed”), and it paints an hon­est and, to any­one who has ex­pe­ri­enced the death of some­one close, re­lat­able pic­ture of tragedy.

Nor­mally when you go to a show, you ex­pect to be en­ter­tained and to leave feel­ing blown away and happy. Given the con­text of the al­bum and tour, I had no ex­pec­ta­tions of the sort. I was ready for an emo­tion­ally dev­as­tat­ing night. Not only that, but the mere fact that Elverum was play­ing in Mon­treal mat­tered, given his mar­riage to Cas­trée and her con­nec­tions with Mon­treal, so I imag­ined that this show in par­tic­u­lar would be rather hard for him. Com­bine this with the fact that the venue, the Ukrainian Fed­er­a­tion Hall in the Mile End, was stuffy and poorly ven­ti­lated and thus hot and muggy, I felt rather un­com­fort­able in the leadup to Elverum be­gin­ning his set.

When Elverum walked on, he briefly spoke about his con­nec­tion to Mon­treal ( con­firm­ing that this would be a dif­fi­cult show for him), then about Cas­trée and the songs he was go­ing to play. No­body made a noise as he spoke, nor as he be­gan play­ing. Af­ter the first song ( an un­re­leased one which left me won­der­ing if he had made up any lyrics on the spot), he launched into play­ing the en­tirety of A Crow Looked At Me. Lis­ten­ing to the al­bum is one thing. See­ing it per­formed is an en­tirely dif­fer­ent one. In­stead of just hear­ing Elverum’s anec­dotes, you see him re­live the en­tire ex­pe­ri­ence. Watch­ing the gri­maces on his face as he sang about Cas­trée was heart­break­ing. It al­most made me wish that he wasn’t per­form­ing, that he wasn’t rewind­ing the tape to watch the men­tal im­age of his wife dy­ing over and over again, but this was part of his heal­ing process. He writes songs about Cas­trée and sings them in or­der to so­lid­ify his sor­row ex­ter­nally.

De­spite the heav­i­ness of the oc­ca­sion, there were brief mo­ments of lev­ity. Dur­ing one song, he re­counted the time he had par­tied with Skrillex and Fa­ther John Misty dur­ing a mu­sic fes­ti­val in Ari­zona full of “young kids on drugs,” and at one point he stopped to talk about how many sweaters he packed for Mon­treal’s sup­pos­edly cooler cli­mate. And it truly was in­cred­i­ble to see an artist that I deeply re­spect and love, some­one who has be­come a fix­ture in the in­die scene af­ter putting out more than two decades worth of fan­tas­tic ma­te­rial, per­form. What’s more, the Ukrainian Fed­er­a­tion Hall was ac­tu­ally an ideal venue for the occa- sion. Hav­ing seen Stars of the Lid there, I had a feel­ing that the lo­ca­tion was well-suited for in­ti­mate shows, and this re­in­forced that fact, with the small space and creak­i­ness of the seats adding to the con­fes­sional air of Elverum’s songs. Ev­ery mem­ber of the au­di­ence was trans­fixed by Elverum. Many peo­ple were in tears, and many strug­gled to fig­ure out ex­actly what to do af­ter each song: do they clap en­thu­si­as­ti­cally to show their ap­pre­ci­a­tion or do they clap re­servedly to show re­spect to the dead?

Af­ter the last song ended, ev­ery­one gave him a stand­ing ova­tion. As I filed out of the venue, feel­ing de­pressed and yet oddly sat­is­fied, I re­al­ized that I had wit­nessed a truly spe­cial event. Be­fore the last song, Elverum had said that he would prob­a­bly never play those songs here in Mon­treal again. It was too painful for him. And, hon­estly, who can blame him? Mon­treal is a per­sonal place to him be­cause of Geneviève Cas­trée. To hope that he does this kind of show again is of­fen­sive. This show only hap­pened be­cause of tragedy. It hap­pened be­cause, as Elverum sings on the open­ing line of A Crow Looked At Me, death is real.

Lis­ten­ing to the al­bum is ex­tremely dif­fi­cult. It is full of painful sur­prises. He writes songs about Cas­trée and sings them in or­der to so­lid­ify his sor­row ex­ter­nally.

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