Mount Eerie w/The Tanukis and Young Coyotes Friday, September 5th, 2008 Brooks Center Arts, Denver Better Than: The last time I saw Microphones.
The Brooks Center Arts basement space was all but packed with people during The Tanukis’ set. The Tanuki is a mischievous creature of Japanese folklore, and the last time I was in Okinawa I saw them all over the place and wondered what the hell these creepy little statuettes were. But the image of the cunning fool conjured by the name, as in The Fool of the Tarot, fits the music of Tanukis well. The group’s music was simultaneously strong and delicate, at once gentle and ferocious. Era’s singing is practiced but unaffected, and she puts a great deal of herself and her feelings into each note, seemingly unmindful that her projected feelings might unsettle some while thrilling others with the utter sincerity of her singing. One thing this performance cemented for me was the fact that this act is broadening the sonic palette and dimensions of experimental chamber music by not trying to fit into that mold and yet somehow exemplifying what that can be. I was also reminded occasionally of Kate Bush, and not just because Era plays the piano, but because Bush’s music embodied putting pop flourishes into what was essentially avant garde music. Bush was also unafraid to let her voice be what it was, to express her feelings naturally. Tanukis similarly harness their individual strengths with rich results.
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Young Coyotes were definitely tighter than the recordings I'd heard online. A three-piece ensemble with two percussionists (one playing the bells) and a guitarist who did lead vocals, Coyotes’ set began with “When I Was in the Fire.” Before they started, the lead singer told us he was nervous. But it didn’t show, beyond the otherwise normal quaver to his singing. The dual rhythms created a compelling flow of sound, and it seemed to me as though there was some intentional distortion on the vocals in various songs. We were told that “A Thousand Masks” was an old song, but admitted that the band was really only around four months old, so how old could it be?
The band closed with “Momentary Drowning.” I was struck by how, yes, the songs were clearly tightly structured, but each member had enough leeway within that structure to move and change things ever so slightly so the performances were less likely to become stale for the band -- and its audience.
I’d seen Microphones twice before, but this show was perhaps the best. Phil Elverum, performing this night as Mount Eerie, has the nervy, awkward yet composed vibe of David Byrne and a similar of charisma. He was alone with a guitar, a stereo set-up with a distortion and a delay with a reverse delay built in with a looping function. It wasn’t an acoustic set so much as one of his more experimental guitar shows; he ran the gamut of creative use of delay and distortion to create atmospheres of swarming dreaminess. The first half to three quarters of the set were entirely comprised of songs Phil was covering from Thanksgiving’s Welcome Nowhere. Whether doing the covers or performing his own material, Elverum’s delivery of the music embodied what it must be like to live in a place where there is a lot of fog and rain and time for introspection shot through with electrifying moments of lightning-lit clarity. With light but witty joking throughout the set, there was no doubt that everyone in the audience was a fan by the time they left if they hadn’t been already.
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Bias: Phil Elverum is one of my favorite songwriters.
Random Detail: There was a potluck before the show.
By the Way: Phil has a book coming out later this year.
-- Review and photos by Tom Murphy