I stood outside the inconspicuous door of an unmarked building, hoping that it was the Heartland. As other weirdos began to congregate near me, I knew we were all here to see Mount Eerie.
Inside, the vibes were good and friendly. I quickly became acquainted with a girl wearing a denim jacket that was seriously channeling Jason Segal from the pilot episode of Freaks and Geeks. She remarked on my homemade red dress with cows on it. It was one of those gatherings where you could make friends with absolutely anyone just by commenting on one of their weird articles of clothing. And it always worked because there was always something to be commented on. It was also the type of gathering that sold coffee that was hand-ground and brewed in front of you, served in one of many eclectically thrifted mugs.
At 9pm, Erin Jorgenson took the stage and our attention with her command of the marimba and sweet and pretty melodies. She ended her set with a cover of Johnny Thunder’s “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory.”
When I heard that there would be a cellist on the bill with Mount Eerie, I didn’t know what to expect. All I knew about Lori Goldston was that she had toured with Nirvana. So, that was pretty cool. What happened next shifted something inside of me.
The experience can best be described as weird, which became an apparent and recurring theme throughout the evening. Lori took the stage with percussionist Dan Sasaki. He had a little set up on the floor with a snare drum, a bass drum, a few cymbals, and other miscellaneous things.
They began playing without a word. The performance felt somewhat improvised, and extremely inspired. Lori and Dan’s chemistry is cosmic, vibing off one another without the need of any visual cues. It was a very intense experience to say the least.
It was at times aurally unsettling. Some of the sounds Dan produced made me physically cringe. But the roughness was always grounded by Lori’s deep cello. Dan had an open bag of instruments next to him that he would occasionally pull from, like a serial killer’s murder kit. The music got so spooky at one point, it felt as if we were watching them live score a horror movie, only we were the ones who were going to die.
Their weirdness excited me. Lori paused from playing to take off her scarf without saying anything. Dan tapped on the keys of a typewriter with earnestness and intent. He poured the remnants of a plastic water bottle on his snare drum and sent water droplets flying into the air as he hit it. He stuck his head completely into his shirt and continued to play. He picked up one of his cymbals and used to hit another cymbal like a drum stick. They were classically trained weirdos.
Not everyone “got” it. There was a teen-aged looking guy across the room who kept chuckling as things got progressively stranger. I fucking hated that guy. To me, what Lori and Dan were doing was so weird that it transcended mockery and demanded to be felt.
I found myself both mesmerized and waiting for it to end so I could stop holding my breath. After playing for roughly fifteen consecutive minutes, they paused and Dan let out a heavy sigh, as if he, too, had been holding his breath, signaling for applause before starting again. At the end of their next session, he simply said, “Whoa.”
Their set gave me butterflies—which admittedly could have been a result of drinking coffee on an empty stomach, but I’m going to give credit to the music for dramatic effect.
We were witnessing poetic inspiration on stage. And that inspiration, that madness, was contagious and had caught hold of the audience. This was the very reason Plato condemned poetry. He believed that it propagates passion, a contagion that throws an entire community into collective hysteria. He was right. We were infected. But it wasn’t a bad thing. Sigh. Whoa.
The night of curated weirdness continued as Phil Elverum took the stage in a flannel shirt and unshapely Carhartt pants, accompanied by his keyboard and giant gong. He begins with a few opening remarks: “Hi, thank you all for coming. I hope you’re comfortable. Is there enough room for everyone to sit? I’m asking.” If ever anyone could pull off being both graceful and awkward, Phil can. Everyone sits down in compliance and enjoys Phil’s new (with the exception of one) songs. He comments on their titles, saying, “They all have one word. And nouns.” A few notable ones were “Spring,” “Dragon,” “Pumpkin,” and “Boat.”
Phil’s angelic voice is juxtaposed by a cacophony of feedback and vibrations from his gong. The room laughs as he sings “A bright thing caught my eye. It was a pumpkin. Half,” and becomes pensive during “Looking at garbage, pretending the wind speaks, looking for meaning in songs.” It’s the kind of music that makes you simultaneously want to cry and wish that you were making out with someone.
Kneeling down at the end of his last song, he looks up at us and says thank you. We say thank you back. And in that moment, I swear we were weird.
I know that I can’t put my arm around a memory; I won’t try. But I can write about it.