Photo by JOSH-PELTA HELLER
I expected to feel naked and vulnerable at the Mount Eerie show, but I never suspected that, hours before the show, I would literally be naked in Center City Philadelphia, and it wouldn’t feel like a nightmare at all. The weather was too beautiful to ignore on Saturday, so my cousin and I decided to go on a bike ride. He’s a seasoned city biker, so I ate his dust as I have in the past, but when I finally caught up to him on Kelly Drive by the art museum I didn’t even get the chance to ring him out because there was some naked dude on a bike in the middle of the road. “Naked bike ride! We’re 5,000 strong. Join us!”
We took our shirts off and joined the brigade biking up the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, down 19th street around Rittenhouse Square, east down South Street clogging city streets with our naked, cycling jubilance. My cousin, Ben, and I talked about how glad we were to have joined. How we would have regretted it if we’d passed it up. About five minutes later, he pulled off to the sidewalk and put on his birthday suit. We rode five minutes more, turning onto Arch street. He told me that he just had to do it because he knew he’d end up regretting it if he hadn’t. I pulled off on the sidewalk and took off my shorts.
Everyone’s had that oh shit I’m naked in a time/place where I really should not be naked stress dream, right? Well, if you had described this situation to me, it’s possible that I would have thought it sounded like that, but FUCK, was it liberating. In a world that can be so dark and heavy, the naked bike ride gifted its participants and observers with levity and the often obfuscated truth of nudity. We made it to the art museum, where Ben and I put our clothes back on, and I headed over to Union Transfer where I expected to see Phil Elverum present the grim nudity of loss.
A somber, seated affair, on Saturday night, Elverum played through Mount Eerie’s latest A Crow Looked At Me, a journal of an album, describing his attempt to survive through the grief of losing his wife Genviéve to pancreatic cancer one year ago. While so much music is diversionary and escapist, turning concerts into parties, this show couldn’t have been more confrontational of that inescapable dread of our mortality. Despite its macabre subject, the show was sold out, filled with members of Elverum’s devoted following from his years releasing music as The Microphones and Mount Eerie. I felt at one with the crowd, who was there to support an artist through his pain. Unlike the bike ride, everyone at the show was wearing clothes, but throughout the show, we would all be stripped naked from our necessary but insidious delusions that life is not trauma; that we won’t lose our loved ones; that we will live forever.
Elverum stood center stage alone, in front of a black backdrop. “Harsh,” he commented, looking at the void, before beginning the set with the devastating, paradoxical first line, “Death is real//Someone’s there and then they’re not//And it’s not for singing about.” But he sang, and at the end of songs, pain and empathy resonated throughout the venue, before hesitant applause broke out. “It’s okay to clap. I know, this is all fucked up, but I’ll tell you when to clap.” I started crying during the second song, thinking about those I’ve lost, those I will lose, and feeling Elverum’s pain through the vibrations of his music.
It’s difficult to communicate this without sounding sensational, but Elverum’s performance was the most authentic I have ever seen. It says it all, right there in that first line of the album, Elverum doesn’t want to sing these songs, he has to because they’re the only way he can survive the loss of his love. He was overcome with shudders throughout his set, often needing to look away from the audience, but I couldn’t take my eyes off of him and the terrible weight of his loss.
No, the show was not fun. But it was spiritual, and real, and necessary to help a genuine artist survive the absurdity of his life after the loss of his wife. Elverum proved that truth, even when it is terrible, is beautiful. I left the show with a renewed sense of appreciation and vulnerability. So lean into living. So get over the petty shit that gets between you and your loved ones. So when you’re on a bike ride and run into 5,000 naked cyclists asking you to join them, take off your clothes and join them. Because, fuck. Death is real. — DILLON ALEXANDER