In 2020, Phil Elverum revived his project known as The Microphones and released his first new album of music under that name since 2003. He's now wrapping up a tour in support of that record.
For his first piece of new music as The Microphones in 17 years, Phil Elverum released an album appropriately titled Microphones in 2020. It was a single song that clocked in at 44 minutes and one of my favorite albums of that year. Now, for his first tour under the name in quite some time, he's been playing the song in full as an entire set. Seeing him do this at St. Ann & the Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn Heights was a transcendent experience that was equally reflective, meditative, and personal but also an all together a spiritual journey. The song, an autobiography set to music, is a long piece of mostly spoken word poetry performed over contemplative, repetitive music that swerves from sparse folk to lacerating moments of noise. It's an emotional track that evokes old spirits, memories, and longing for time that was disintegrated into the ether. Starting with a strumming rhythm that acts as the metronome of the song, we slowly fall deep under Phil's spell until we are totally entranced with his voice, the music, and his primal storytelling techniques. It's one thing to experience this as a recorded piece of music, but to witness it live is something on another level. As he took to the stage and strapped on a lone acoustic guitar, he introduced Jim, the only other person who would aid in the song, and wasted no time building the ambiance that would serve as the foundation for the performance. He began to build the loop of the acoustic riff for what felt like an eternity, the anticipation of the vocal delivery mounting with each plucking of the strings. Soon, his light, delicate voice came into the mix and the story was under way. Embarking on the tales of his early life, he offered such a deep and intimate view into his upbringing and how he found influences from the Pacific Northwest through the elements that give the region such distinct characteristics. Throughout the piece there are mentions of tales from his childhood and trips with his family, his processing of the death of Kurt Cobain, listening to My Bloody Valentine, seeing Stereolab, recording his early tracks as The Microphones before dawn, and naming his art project after the tools that were in front of him. As he progressed through the story, the electric hums and feedback from Jim's complimentary guitar work would gain momentum and add new tones to the song, providing pulsating texture and weight. Elverum introduced even more to the fold when he picked up a bass and lashed the strings to evoke piercing noise that echoed throughout the hall whole the lights behind him altered to a darker state as if to depict the demons being eviscerated from the song's soul. How fitting the the church setting? As the noise settled, the song found its previous rhythm and the melody took back its shape before Elverum continued to showcase his profound vulnerability through storytelling. He recounted his decision to shred The Microphones and embrace Mount Eerie with such clarity, rawness, and honesty so much that it felt as if the story was for only you and not the countless others also captivated with each passing moment. In the song, he mentions that a reunion tour of The Microphones would be impossible as he is the lone member and this tour is certainly not a reunion of any kind. Instead it's a bit of a retrospective and performative autobiography. It was also one of the most enthralling and hypnotic artistic performances I've ever seen.