LOS ANGELES — Singer-songwriter Phil Elverum, under the stage name Mount Eerie, conveyed a heartrendingly spiritual experience at The Cathedral Sanctuary at Immanuel Presbyterian Saturday.
It was impossible to not come away unscathed from the unrelenting catharsis that has risen from Elverum’s tragedy: the loss of his wife. And yet the 39-year-old somehow still manages to muster up the courage to bare it all for others. Having the opportunity to take in his bare-bones accounts of loss and how he has tried to cope along the past two years came across as a privilege.
Performing a mix of two confessional records, 2017’s A Crow Looked at Me and 2018’s Now Only, Elverum relieved some of the pressure by cracking a few jokes here and there. From the first track, “Distortion,” Elverum’s performance was an event of openhearted sentiment about the fragility of life and finding solace.
Straightforward and unabstracted, the lyrics encompassing Elverum’s most recent records may seem like random ramblings about the concept of death to those unaware of his story. But for those familiar with Elverum’s pain, his words painted poignant pictures of heartbreak that reminded everyone of the ephemerality of life.
“But sometimes people get killed before they get to finish/ All the things they were going to do,” he sang on “Two Paintings By Nikolai Astrup.” “That’s why I’m not waiting around anymore/ That’s why I tell you that I love you.”
In the midst of his own loss, Elverum levied the nature in which we tend to take every moment for granted, while imploring listeners to hold on to those we love.
Even before the death of his wife, Geneviève Castrée, Elverum had always used music for its most genuine purpose—the emotional catharsis of its writer. His last two albums have some of his greatest, most provocative lyrics, but they are not meant to be enjoyed. Like each of his studio recordings, Elverum’s live performances are supposed to be experienced and taken in on a spiritual level rather than consumed like any other piece of music.
Contrasting the slew of vivid and deeply personal musings, Elverum maintained a sobering and friendly posture during the show. With the presence of a small tree at his side and a simple set-up that consisted of an acoustic guitar and the sheer gravity of his voice, his minimalist approach was stretched to painstaking lengths.
Sighing heavily and rubbing the anguish from his eyes between songs, Elverum would fix his eyes toward the ceiling as he uttered a line about his wife. With these wounded moments and unrestrained lyrical confessions, he inspired awe from across the pew.
With the droning guitar strumming on songs like “Earth” and “Distortion,” Elverum’s musical talent was not overshadowed by the weight of his lyrics, as the sounds he was able to generate from his limited production pierced through the venue’s spiritual ambiance and hushed the audience.
Witnessing Elverum play these songs that chronicle his deeply personal thoughts felt like an act of solidarity and support, particularly for anyone who has dealt with a loss as earth-shattering and abrupt as his.
With a church acting as the perfect backdrop, the spiritual cleansing and therapeutic unity formed at Saturday concert was emotionally destructive, but in the end, profoundly memorable as audience members shuffled out of the room drenched in tears, deeply reminded that death is real.
Follow writer Kyle Kohner at Twitter.com/kylejkohner.