Mt. Eerie and Bouquet @ Crescent Ballroom| 10/1/12
Phil Elverum, the veteran soothsayer behind blackened avant-folk monolith Mt. Eerie, did two things that he hasn't done in Phoenix for a very long time. First: he played with a full ensemble, complete with Sunn amp stacks and ominous keys, harboring a set comprised mostly of tracks from the gorgeous new albums Clear Moon and Ocean Roar.
Second, and most surprising: he took a request. He is hardly a diva, but past Mt. Eerie shows had Elverum deflecting requests in favor of exacting, thematic sets of newer material. Late in the show, someone up front cheerfully asked for "You Swan Go On" from his Lost Wisdom collaboration with the members of Eric's Trip, and Elverum instantly worked it in. It was indicative of a performance that, while ornate and loudly narcotic, never once became distractingly self-serious.
Though he sported an almost comically large 12-string electric, Elverum initially conjured dulcimer-like strumming in the gentle opening numbers, his band creating the earthy backdrops to his strolling lyricism. "I walked home beholding," Elverum sang, and though his observances of snow and sky shapes seem barely linear, the effect was transfixing. Though there were extended heavy jams, even the sheets of distortion were soothing. During the song "Distorted Cymbals," the bassist plucked her strings hard to wrench out that trunk-rattle effect while still entirely at ease in the clamor.
The inviting effect on the audience was apparent: people stepped down from the Ballroom's bleachers and gathered on the floor before the stage. Elverum did a weird little head-bow at the end of each song, even when it was obvious the song concluded. There was goofy stage banter about download codes and Elverum thanked a particularly enthused group of attendees for "yelling a lot." The ominous landscapes on this year's two Mt. Eerie records are dramatic and barren, but Elverum clearly hopes to have others walk alongside him in the mist.
L.A.-based Bouquet, featuring Phoenix songwriter Tom Filardo on bass, accomplished their own kind of ornate jazz-pop drama without the use of intimidation. The band combined theatrical drums with bright yet angular guitar textures, austere and airtight verses giving way to shimmering choruses. Singer Carolyn Riggs sounded crystalline yet harrowing in the lounge-like setting; she twice gently requested that the on-stage lights be turned down even further. Her seemingly innocent lyricism had, at times, a darker fortitude - a snippet about dusting off someone's trophies stood out to me as either erotic or threatening, the tension between the chord shapes giving the ambiguity a satisfying twist.
Last night: Mt. Eerie and Bouquet at Crescent Ballroom
All-age Cage: This was the first time I saw Crescent Ballroom operate at half-room capacity where they close down the ballroom bar and segment the hall with a huge curtain (cleverly painted to look like the room it's obscuring). However, this meant the all-ages section was the size of an apartment hallway, and according to a friend, "felt like being at the bottom deck of the Titanic." Underagers had to be escorted to the bathrooms and were not allowed re-entry if they exited without accompaniment. Once the show ended, they were all corralled out at once. I noticed that they did receive wait staff service and the logistics are understandably tight with the half-room floor plan, but do the kids really need a sitter?