Mount Eerie
Murmrr Theatre; Brooklyn, NY

"Red drapes, Harry... from my dream." CUT TO: INT. JACQUES RENAULT'S APARTMENT

Under the Star of David, between the two glowing menorahs, in front of the draped ark, he sang. His audience congregated about; most had their mouths inexplicably open. Others listened attentively, awaiting the next dictum of living with death. No one had their phones out. No one dared murmur during a song.

The stage at the new Murmrr theater in Brooklyn, a synagogue by day and concert venue by night, was a stage of symmetry. Massive stained glass lined the eastern and western walls; two menorahs around 5 feet tall stood on marble blocks stage-left and stage-right; a pair of tripods holding single light bulbs sat on the actual stage; and vases with flowers that you couldn’t tell if they were blooming or decaying were closest to the center. And in the middle of all of this, Phil Elverum sang to us about the journey of his wife’s death.

Performing under his Mount Eerie moniker, it was clear Elverum wasn’t going to be playing old Microphones favorites or any deep cuts. He was here for a reason. I thought he felt like a prophet, filling his worshippers in about life after loss. My friend thought it seemed like a funeral, or a wake. Another concertgoer wept softly into a napkin.

There wasn’t much chatter between songs. From the start, Elverum sincerely informed us what the show would be: he’ll perform songs off his new record, then there will be a 30-minute intermission, and then he’ll do six more tracks, but don’t worry because those songs are on the longer side. He apologized to us a few times for even coming out to see him and bearing the subject matter of his songs. These were enthusiastically met with rapturous applause. We were all in it together, vulnerably and supportively.

Somberly, he played the opening tracks from his 2017 album A Crow Looked At Me. He stayed resolutely in the center, never veering far from the symmetrical balance. His voice never wavered, his hands never missed a chord change. His pain had become second nature. During the opening set, we became familiar with the death of his wife, artist and singer Geneviève Castrée. We learned of the beginning symptoms, the diagnosis, the death, and the ongoing aftermath.

The aftermath is what Elverum and his daughter are left with. Receiving a backpack his wife secretly ordered for their baby daughter a week after her death; emptying her ashes with his daughter on a mountaintop; seeing the vacant chair at the kitchen table across from him. Over the course of the concert, we get a glimpse of what it’s like to live with loss. To be the one who goes on breathing as the person closest to you becomes bone and ash and pictures become realer than memories.

Elverum sang most of A Crow Looked At Me, and then he took his 30-minute break. The crowd congregated again, and took their seats. Elverum played six new songs, which were, as promised, on the longer side. The songs continued the direction taken on A Crow Looked At Me. What it’s like to be a single father, or to be lonely in the middle of nowhere and look into the stars and see his wife’s face, or to have his daughter request Mama’s record and the painful recognition of her voice once again reverberating throughout their home.

“I’m sobbing and eating eggs again,” Elverum confides in one of his new tracks. And at that moment, he had an entire congregation sobbing with him.

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