Loren Connors and Mount Eerie at Le Poisson Rouge last night.
Connors’ set achieved a surprising tonal and dynamic variation from minimal ingredients. He created glassy, atonal figures from delicate minor eleventh barre chords — playing through heavy echo, his electric guitar sounded like the complex harmonics of metal chimes. When he turned on a slowly sweeping auto wah pedal, Connors sounded like the alien texture of early atonal electronic music — an effect made even stranger because, from up close, I could hear the acoustic sound of his strings before their electric transmutation.
Though I was aware of him, this was the first time I’d heard Connors. I was expecting his playing to work more like Bill Orcutt’s, which I think of as being essentially post-technical: it’s connected to existing blues styles, but hypercharges and abstracts them. By contrast, Connors’ guitar seems more pre-technical. This isn’t saying that he’s an untalented player — he displayed an exceptional control of his timbre, and a calculated sense of narrative development — but the physical act of performance seems more central to Connors’ style. He’s had Parkinson’s disease for something like twenty years, and seemed to have difficulty walking onto the stage. Seen in this light, Connors’ playing — in which he contorts his body awkwardly and builds to aggressive manipulations of his strings — seems like an intense personal exploration of the body.
Mount Eerie, on the other hand, were at ease — Phil Elverum’s five-piece crew even brought along a fake fireplace for the middle of the stage, and politely poured each other coffee from a carafe between songs. “We’re from the Pacific north-west”, he said; “get it?”
When I saw Mount Eerie almost exactly a year ago, Elverum was only accompanied by two keyboardists. This lineup created a focus on the band’s more ambient material that suited them poorly. Though obsessed with nature, Elverum is no naïf. Mount Eerie’s music is capable of showing how we can be intimately related to the natural world, but also in its brutal, black metal-influenced moments, it reflects how impersonal and violent nature can also be — after one distorted squall had receded, Elverum sang that he’s “totally at peace with the meaningless of living”. Adding a rhythm section enabled Mount Eerie to effectively render both sides of its music, the whisperingly intimate and the crushingly massive — the bassist’s aggressive fuzz added a particularly welcome heft to the sound. Particular highlights were the pulverizing, off-kilter Krautrock of “Pale Lights” and “Clear Moon”, which moved from a doom drone appropriate for the huge Sunn O))) amp Elverum was using to quietly gorgeous close harmonies with the female bassist.