REVIEW: The Microphones: live in Toronto, 03/06/03
On June 3rd, 2003, Phil Elvrum's Mt. Eerie (formerly The Microphones) performed at Toronto's St. George the Martyr Churchee. Gareth Auden-Hole was there. He tells us about it.
After a busy day of sneaking into hotel pools, discovering exceptionally good live music at a pub down the road (I can't remember who it was or what the place is called but they play there every Tuesday at 6pm and are worth tracking down if you're in downtown Toronto and looking for a relaxing pint accompanied by good music... it was way far west down Queen Street, past Rotate This on the south side), and otherwise wandering around downtown, my friend Heather and I walked into the St. George and Martyr church.
We were greeted by a tall, geeky, young Asian man who asked us if we were interested in being part of a chorus. We politely declined, took our seats and began waiting. Now I'm not someone who gets excited very often, and if I do I'm not one to show it; but for the record, I was damned excited. Also, in someways I was somewhat anxious and nervous. I knew how great The Microphones could be in the studio, but i could not fathom how that sound might be translated into a solo show by Microphones/Mount Eerie front-man Phil Elvrum. I was half expecting Elvrum to come out with a bass drum strapped to his back and cymbals between his knees, doing the one man band shtick. So we waited in anticipation for a while until Picastro, the opening band, came out.
Picastro is a Toronto-native chamber-rock band with deaf front-woman Liz Hysen on vocals and guitar, along with her backing band of kit, lead guitar, and violin. They played a good set which was best when they got their harmonized vocals going, and worst between songs - when Ms. Hysen started talking, her bitchy attitude and annoying remarks killed the mood in a hurry. I don't know if she was just in a bad mood or if that's the way she always talks, but it really bothered me. Picastro did, however, play well, and they were much more melodic than I had expected from reading their bios.
Finally, after a short interlude during which we were encouraged to go out to Fellowship Hall and enjoy a refreshing beverage, it was time for Phil to take the stage. Out he walked, a somewhat goofy-looking man with overgrown, messy hair, a bright yellow t-shirt, and a guitar over his shoulder - followed by about twenty indie rock kids complete with sweater vests, shoulder bags, thick black glasses, and other Value Village fashions. The chorus lined up perfectly behind Phil and began singing a single repetitive line. They were actually surprisingly good, specifically one girl who sang harmonies and totally made the chorus (I couldn't say for sure which girl it was that sang so beautifully, but I found that if I pretended it was the hot girl [she was really hot], it made her just that much hotter [so fucking hot]). The chorus sang with Phil for the first two or three songs and the effect worked wonderfully. He then sent them off to take their seats, paused a moment to say "Hi, my name is Phil," and fielded some questions from the audience. For those who wish to know, Phil's favorite color is "clear".
Eventually, he continued the set.
For the most part, Phil would play with guitar and voice only. His voice actually sounded better in this venue than it does on any of his albums: it rose above the quiet guitar parts offering simple, yet stirring, songs. At a couple of points Phil got the whole audience involved; in one song it was a call-and- response sing-along style in which the audience would reply "We know there is" to whatever apparently improvised words Phil sang. During this song a cell-phone went off. Phil promptly replied "There's cell phones with their ringers on,"; audience: "We know there is."
The set continued and its energy never fell: Phil himself even admitted that he'd "never played a show like this." But nothing could have prepared me for the final song. Firstly, before each verse he would walk backwards as far as he could, stopping the music each time, then he would run up to the mic for the first line of each verse in an attempt to take complete advantage of the amazing acoustics of the small church. It was really more funny than anything else, but as the song continued the funny became somber, until the end when Phil sang the line "and then he said"
he just stopped playing, stopped singing, and stood there with his head down, eyes closed. The most wonderful thing was that everyone else was silent as well; here we were in a church with about 200 people, at a "rock concert" no less, and there's not a sound to be heard. We sat in the nothingness for what was probably only twenty or thirty seconds but seemed like minutes and in those seconds there was an unseen bond between Phil and the audience and each audience-member to each other as we quietly realized that this was something magical and we were a part of it. Finally, he sang his final words, "I love it so much," the same words as the first he made, an hour and a bit earlier. It was as if to bring the show full circle.
He was given a standing ovation.
After the show, my roommate and her friends, who had come separately, asked if we wanted to join them to go to some club, but Heather and I instead decided we would go home and continue the music-making by playing some guitar. It's a long ride home from downtown to Jane & Finch, but I wanted to keep the euphoric mood I was in until we got home, so that I could channel it into my own music. During almost the entire 1hr transit home I stared blankly at the window across from my seat. We barely said anything to each other. I was spending all of my energy just trying to keep my mood and my emotions constant. I was unsuccessful. By the time we arrived home and had a snack, I felt mostly tired and numb. But we played some gEEtar anyway and decided try and find a ride to Hamilton on Thursday to catch Phil's show there as well. We found no rides. We took the bus instead.
(Read our review of The Microphones' most recent LP, Mount Eerie.)