NO PHOTOS/ NO VIDEO
Mount Eerie and Secret Mountain at U St. Music Hall
Tuesday, Sept. 18th, 2012
NO PHOTOS/ NO VIDEO
I arrived during the sound check and was lucky I had. I knew the magic of what was coming to the crowd of the U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC.
As I descended the stairs of the music hall, I was greeted with an air of creativity. Paintings of wild characters on the walls awed me with an ugliness that only freeness and rebellion could provide. Cracked posters with air wrinkles plastered performances on the walls. Disco balls spun from the ceilings. The only thing with any permanence to the U Street Music Hall, the only thing that didn’t jump out at me precariously, was a small painted sign that read: NO PHOTOS/ NO VIDEO.
There was a dullness to the black box basement of the hall that had been worn down by good times. By reading the posters, it was apparent that those good times were provided by some creativity craving souls. On this night it was to be Phil Elverum and his Mount Eerie outfit. They are a curious bunch. While they waited to start their sound check, they hung from ladders and balanced on railings. They were cuffed pants and coffee, moccasins and colored socks, all of their ankles showed. They laughed, talked, paced, drank coffee, and danced. They were “artists”, their “strangeness” born out of dedication and progression.
The crowd for Mount Eerie was not quite as “strange” and their ankles did not show. Casually dressed patron after casually dressed patron produced their tickets, almost all of the men in buttoned shirts, and of course, as it always is when art and bars mix, a LOT of women. Most of the patrons tended the merchandise tables as the night began. Others got drinks and stood on the main floor, the burning rose red ceiling lights blanketing them.
As the hall filled, the DJ continued his set. The scenario begged the question: Why would anyone attend the U Street Music Hall on a Tuesday night? The answer was for the live music. When I asked the patrons, they had heard of and were anticipating Mount Eerie. Even as the guests mingled to the DJ set, they faced the stage, ready for Phil Elverum and his band and their opening act.
The opening act was Secret Mountain. Their mellow drones and garbled sound set an undeniable mood. The orange and green lights of the stage froze them in a sort of film for the crowd to appraise. They didn’t play music to be danced to; theirs was a performance to be watched. The crowd, under those red lights, seemed like a dark fruit, prickled with bobbing heads. Before Secret Mountain was done, their lead singer expressed how much she was looking forward to seeing Mount Eerie.
If Secret Mountain was to be seen, Mount Eerie was an act to be heard. Their sound was mellow electrified. You could think while they played. It was almost better than silence to hear the power, continence, and continuity of Elverum’s collection. Sustained notes seeped through their tunes and drowned the audience into a hypnotic state. Mount Eerie was so clean, so crisp, the sound was almost visible. Backing Elverum’s vocals was a bass guitar that vibrated the ground so hard that I thought my feet were asleep. Yes, the crowd was hypnotized, draped in a shade of red from the ceiling lights. They were like mummies, zombies stolen by the music. They stood in unison, not in awe, but in absorption. Some of the audience held each other while listening. Some tried to nod their heads but were lulled back into submission. I noticed two of the members of Secret Mountain kissing through a song. The disco balls rattled and swayed above them with every thunderous strum of that bass guitar. One of the balls could have fallen, I’m not sure any of them would have noticed. The audience swayed lifelessly, just listening. And just as soon as the songs would end, the spell was broken. It was incredible.
The voodoo didn’t reach the very back of the hall though, where the crowd wasn’t as doused by the deep red ceiling light. It didn’t reach the bar either, where people discussed what they were hearing, drank, and socialized. It didn’t seem to have a hold on the press either, who like me, were taking photos, videos, and notes. And it made me wonder: There may be no memory of this magical performance, this hypnotic hour, if we had not broken the permanent rule of the U Street Music Hall: NO PHOTOS/NO VIDEO.
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