Published Dec 01, 2019After releasing back-to-back albums in 2017 and 2018 about the death of his wife, artist and musician Geneviève Castrèe, Phil Elverum, a.k.a. Mount Eerie, became known for his mournful, tear-inducing performances. With help from his favourite singer, Julie Doiron of '90s Moncton alt-rockers Eric's Trip, Elverum returned this year with Lost Wisdom pt. 2. On this, their second collaborative album, following 2008's Lost Wisdom, the duo deal with loss of a less morbid sort: his separation from actor Michelle Williams.
But although Lost Wisdom pt. 2 is profoundly melancholic, it is ultimately optimistic. Elverum finds himself accepting change as an inevitable constant. He also accepts the possibility that love can return in new forms. Elverum and Doiron brought these hopeful messages to a sold-out Christ Church Cathedral on Saturday night.
Before the duo took the stage together, Doiron proved herself to be a perfect foil for Elverum with a wholly lighthearted solo set. She opened with new material from an album she announced she would begin focusing on in February. Sharing the night's theme of acceptance and moving on, she sang, "I've been here before. I know there's a lesson to learn. I'm ready to learn." She continued, on another new song: "Well I made it through the darkness. I was stuck there for a while. Now I'm moving to the light." On the latter, she humorously anthropomorphized darkness as a needy being that couldn't live without her and nagged her to stay. But in the end, she walked out on darkness.
Typical of Doiron, she did not prepare a setlist. Instead, she played what came to mind and accepted requests. But she was immediately thrown a curveball. She tried to stumble through "When Brakes Get Wet" but abandoned it halfway through. She and the audience had a laugh, and they were gracious enough to applaud her effort.
Many of the laughs came from her ramblings. In the middle of "Heavy Snow," she attributed her numerous mistakes on her attempt at the song to her stomach full of ramen. ("Things are starting to gurgle."). She was also preoccupied with her runny nose and trying to remember how to play "When Brakes Get Wet." But she found her way through "Heavy Snow," with its delicate finger-picking and blown-out guitar chords.
Doiron and Elverum together were far more focused and sobering. Their songs were brittle as tinder. Time stood still during "Love Without Possession." "Belief" demonstrated their chemistry at its best as Doiron cleanly harmonized with Elverum or swooped in behind him as they traded off lines.
But moments of lightness still shone through, testaments to their longstanding mutual comfort. They laughed off moments moments when they stumbled on lyrics; she caught herself on "Enduring the Waves," but they mistimed a harmony on "What?"
After playing through Lost Wisdom pt. 2's eight songs in sequential order, Elverum and Doiron delved into most of Lost Wisdom. Here, on the back half of their set, they began joking about their friendship. "Phil's known me for a long time," Julie said after fumbling with her gear or lyric sheets. "He knows what's in store for this tour." Phil, in turn, expressed how lucky he was to be able to make music and tour with her. And after the restlessly haunting "Voice in Headphones," she marvelled, "Wow, haven't done that in 10 years." "Still got it," he replied, proudly boosting his friend and collaborator.
Given Lost Wisdom pt. 2's theme of perseverance in the face of change and the cyclical nature of life, death, love, and loss, it was appropriate, then, that Elverum and Doiron found one of the night's most poignant verses when they reached into the past: "I want to go back across that sea / With my hands out, with my hands out / And I will rise from the water / Though I'm cold and wet, I will be clean," they sang on "With My Hands Out." Indeed, with the warmth of friendship, understanding and support from Julie Doiron, Phil Elverum seemed born anew, or at least rejuvenated. He will likely never fully stop mourning, but at Christ Church Cathedral, it was undeniable: a weight was lifted from him. Their performance certainly felt like closure.