How do you see the light through the smoke? This is not a question of logistics, although that became a secondary concern for those at Mount Eerie’s show last night at Le Poisson Rouge. The real question, however, is a musical one: how does the beauty of the band’s songs shine through the distortions and muddling created by this five piece from the Northwest? If you were one of the people packed in close at this intimate show, the answer was easy: let Phil guide you. Phil being, of course, Phil Elverum, the lead singer and creative force for Mount Eerie. Standing off to the side on stage left, Elverum directed proceedings in a friendly and self-deprecating way; his smile was true when he said thank you and even more so when he waited for the applause to die down between each song.
At the start of the set, after introducing his band as a unit (“These people have names, but they told me not to introduce them; that’s embarrassing,” he said with a laugh), Elverum announced that they would indeed be mostly playing songs from their two fantastic 2012 albums, Clear Moon and Ocean Roar. The former dominated the set, with seven of the 12 songs coming from that album, which has been around since May. It was played in order for the most part, albeit with the key move of the title track to second-to-last, a shift that worked given its propensity to lean towards the darker and louder soundscapes that populate Ocean Roar.
Highlights from the first half of the set included the opening beauty, “Through The Trees Pt. 2”, which eased the crowd into the set with a smile and a wink, contemplating on the wonder that is hundreds of people listening to a guitar strum and a man whisper. Another standout was the more agile “House Shape”, which navigates soaringly through its four minute duration with slightly isolationist lyrics; it’s not the happiest song, but Mount Eerie isn’t concerned with telling us of happiness. It only creates it through its honesty.
The best song of both the Ocean Roar part and the whole show was, not coincidentally, the best song from both albums: “Pale Lights.” This album opener stands at a massive 10 minutes, yet the live version changed up its anatomy, ripping it up and putting it back together to accomodate for a packed room. The intro lasts around 3 minutes on record before cutting out to Elverum’s voice, but at LPR, it lasted around a minute. Why’s that? The band made the wise decision to extend the build-up in the middle of the song, turning it into a slow burn that absolutely dazzled. Despite Elverum’s reverb pedal acting up halfway through the song, it was a blast of noise and beauty that few bands have the dexterity to pull off. “Pale Lights” became a bastion for the set, an example of what it is that Mount Eerie do so well.
This stunner was followed by fan favorite “Who?”, one of two songs that do not appear on this year’s albums (the other was “Distorted Cymbals”, which can be found on a 7”). After playing through the song in its familiar skeleton, Elverum announced that they were going to “do something really weird now,” which consisted of playing it back with everything pushed to 11. It was thrilling to hear how different a song can be when attacked with such vicious rage, controlled by a master bandleader. Afterwards, the band wrapped up the hour+ set (they had decided to play a long set, because why not?) with Ocean Roar’s final non-instrumental track, “I Walked Home Beholding.” The final lines of the closer have Elverum singing “the wind had increased,” and as the crowd filed out into a brisk New York City night, it was hard to imagine that the Northwest had come to Manhattan, if only for a night. Clear moon above, we walked home, the sound of an ocean roar still ringing in our ears.