by carl wilson

Predators of the Adoration (Or, "Mount Eerie? Mount Phooey!")

More live music for me this past weekend than in any in many a month: Friday night at Sonore, Sunday with Chenaux/Arnold and Black Ox Orkestar at Wavelength and Monday at the Music Gallery for the Microphones.

[... continue to mini-reviews, denunciations etc. ...]

Sonore, the Brotzmann/Gustafsson/Vandermark trio at the Goethe Institut, was sheer ear-wringing-out pleasure. Oh, and presenter Ron Gaskin [Rough Idea] name-dropped Zoilus from the stage - the first time that's happened, an eeensy milestone in the blogography.

At Wavelength Eric Chenaux on guitar and Martin Arnold on banjo played a deliriously pleasant opening set, featuring some old folk and blues pieces and some originals all run through a blender that was part Eugene Chadbourne, part Tony Conrad-style process music. Martin's very rare vocal turn on Trouble in Mind was a joy (Martin's American originally, if I remember right, so he has the accent for it), and Eric's guitar solo on the last number, from his new disc with Michelle McAdorey, Love Doesn't Change, was an unusual instance of him putting aside modesty and shooting the moon.

The Black Ox Orkestar followed, entrancing most of a surprisingly packed Labour Eve club (happily including a contingent of older relatives of the musicians and perhaps a smattering of Ashkenaz-going tourists(?), less happily the never-ending, never-shutting-up party that carries on in the back of any Wavelength), with a powerful, four-square, somewhat austere set. I missed some of the added texture and sonority of the album, but appreciated the effort made to put the songs in context and provide translations of the Yiddish lyrics, the sort of material that really ought to be provided with the album (it's shrouded in some of the usual Constellation artier-than-thou blank obfuscation - aesthetically sumptuous but unhelpful in this instance, where the histories behind the songs are of darker design than any black-on-black graphic could be).

As for last night, the Microphones... Being in the church that hosts the Music Gallery is always wonderful - as opener Woelv aka Genevieve Castree (aka Gosselin, ex-Montrealer, and Mr. Microphones' fiancee) put it, "It's the best place to play in the world." And I enjoyed her set, a demure Cat Power/Julie Doiron/Bjork sort of thing in French and, on the set highlight, fractured Flemish on a full-throated a capella Jacques Brel cover - tho it'd be nice if she'd make like Black Ox and let the linguistically challenged in on the subject matter time to time - to stimulate the imagination and help prevent the songs from seeming to blur into each other. Also tranced out blissful-like to Craig Dunsmuir's Guitarkestra loops project in the resonant lulling acoustics of the space. But the Microphones...

Well, Washington State, K Recs boy Phil Elvrum has a cult following and far be it from me to piddle on their paradise. And the ensemble assembled by Jonathan Bunce for this first edition in his brand new Avant Pop series at the Gallery was inspired, with Sea Snakes and some ace local horn and woodwind players backing Elvrum's landscape-centric anthems and Woelv's harmonies. The band learned the songs that afternoon and listening to them slapping together ideas for the arrangments on the fly lent a real human drama to it all, an intimate adventure for players and spectators. But after a few years of mixed feelings, this show brought me to the conclusion that I don't like the Microphones/Mt. Eerie schtick - it comes off to me like self-helpy new ageisms, all sub-Hermann Hesse blah blah blah about death and the mountaintops and wolves, these figures repeated in song after song and surrounded with little homilies whose sense of humour (for which thank fucking god, mind you) can't disguise their basic misanthropy.

Not that Elvrum doesn't seem like a fine fella, and definitely a charismatic performer. (All the more once he stopped having to be a bandleader and was playing solo.) But it's all Romantic-with-a-capital-R stuff about the noble indifference of nature compared to the cruel letdowns of social existence, in song after song talking about going into the snowy peaks and living with (and presumably running with) the wolves. While I'm down with the ecological aesthetic, this is just Dr. Phil for Earth Firsters. The crowd eats it up like lullabies, and no wonder, as it's complete moral quietism. ("They tell you you have to stand up for what's right/ You don't. Lie down....")

Philosophically it's bullshit to me - the fact that nature cannot dread death, cannot hate death, etc., that its cruelty is impersonal and thus preferable to the ego-ridden cruel choice of humanity, all that rot. Of course nature can't be ego-riddden - as far as we know, it hasn't that capacity. But human beings having the capacities that they have is natural too. There is no separating curtain except that thinking makes it so. Our cruelty may be laden with self-consciousness but that does not make it less innate, and all that just renders kindness more astounding... (Search out Toronto poet Christopher Dewdney's sadly out-of-print The Immaculate Perception for a brain-spanking naturalist's celebration of the phenomenology of self-consciousness.)

With all that second-order shit shoved aside the nature-boy bit floats there as kid stuff in the sink, left-out-to-spoil Thoreau amped up by a few good English-major feints and dodges but remaining completely wedded to a lyric "I" or (weak dodge) "you" whose effect is that the mountains and clouds are still possessed by the singer rather than vice-versa. Though he gets off a good one about how people try to pretend they are what they're not by going camping (a la Deliverance), his songs ultimately seem like a camping-trip-as-epiphany in a bad workshop short story. You could compare the much more quizzical strategies Devendra Banhart, f'r'instance, uses to make his mystikal dreams seem distinct from the dreamer.

And if this were a rigorous essay, I'd be on that like Elvrum on a thumbsucker about the great black night, but for blog purposes I'll fade out on this more-reluctant-than-it-sounds character assassination attempt - so reluctant that I'm in fact entirely willing to change my mind back again and decide Mt. Eerie is in fact a minor miracle, for instance because of the radical localism of his materials - and make off in dark sunglasses and grey fedora back to the underworld of column deadlines.

Read More | Live Notes | Posted by zoilus on Tuesday, September 07 at 1:40 AM | Linking Posts

 

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Zoilus by Carl Wilson