Last Night You Still Have to Reckon with the Space Above Your Head
posted by February 26 at 16:12 PMon
Mount Eerie, Y.A.C.H.T. - The Vera Project, 02/25/07
I’ve been watching Phil Elverum perform for the last seven or eight years as the Microphones/Mount Eerie, and not too much has changed in that time. Elverum has occasionally played with more than just an acoustic guitar and his own voice, but that’s sort of the standard, and it’s more than enough to communicate the spare beauty of his songs. Elverum remains a charmingly human performer, fumbling in between songs, bumping mics, forgetting his setlist, and just generally acting like it’s his first time up on a stage. It would feel contrived if Elverum didn’t seem to act that way all the time.
Lyrically, Elverum’s always grappled with the same material: nature, the universe, life, death, the nature of existence, and his own personal place in the world. It’s been interesting to watch his understanding of these things change incrementally onstage and on record over the years, shifting from hopeful wonder to cycles of death and rebirth and finally to his current Anacortes Zen-hermit phase, in which songs about sweeping the floor are really songs about trying to hug the whole of existence. Another thing has changed since his Microphones days: Instead of describing epic moments and ideas with equally expansive, multilayered songs, Elverum now tackles these subjects with simple, straightforward acoustic guitar.
By now, and especially around here, Elverum has developed a significant cult following that hangs on his every comic gesture and stammer, and tonight was no exception. When Elverum instructed the crowd to sing along on the refrain to “Human,” everyone enthusiastically did as he said. And really, the reason he has this following is because these moments he orchestrates feel honestly magical. There’s a kind of transcendent, communal spirit to singing along, hymn-like (Phil Elverum let slip during “Get off the Internet” that “there is no god” and everyone laughed a little nervously). I guess that’s the purpose of Elverum’s humble humor, to deflate the more potentially heavy existential moments—at one point he joked that it was so quiet you could hear his fog machine (itself something of a joke) “farting,” and then easy laughter broke the silent spell.
Elverum sang one song that seemed to be a sequal/continuation of the Microphones’ epic “Moon,” in which he gently made peace with the formerly troubling satellite, only for it to rebuke him with the warning that he would still have to “reckon with the space above [his] head.” It was a perfect self-referential moment, bringing together years of searching and questioning, and reveling in the unanswerability of everything.
Y.A.C.H.T. on the other hand revel in booty-moving beats, inspirational speechifying, and silly dancing, and he brought all of those things in bulk. The crowd was nuts, turning the Vera lobby into an impromptu disco. I’m pretty sure one of his songs used an interpolation of “Get Innocuous” off of LCD Soundsystem’s stellar new album, Sound of Silver, so bonus points for that. Y.A.C.H.T. doesn’t live that far away (neither does Elverum, really), so why isn’t he playing Seattle dance parties every month?