I spent all day on Sunday running around town, going from thing to thing, without stopping for a second to catch my breath. I went to work early, had lunch with a friend, and played music all afternoon. It was the best day ever. Everything culminated in a volunteer shift at a show organized by Space Gallery.
Instead of hosting the concert at Space’s usual location on Congress Street, the main artery of Portland, The Microphones were scheduled to perform at the First Parrish Church, a Universalist Unitarian space close to City Hall. I parked down the street from the church and scarfed a slice of pizza on my way to the show, jumping the line that had already formed on the church steps. This was my first time volunteering with Space, and I got quickly introduced to a whole team of people who were a little stressed out about what was about to go down. My job: to point out where ticket holders could find bathrooms and concessions. Later, I was moved to a new job, where I had to stop people from bringing drinks into the church’s main room – “Water counts,” I would apologize, and people would either down their drink in front of me or toss it in the trash.
First Parrish is a gorgeous space and a perfect concert venue. The floors were covered in a vibrant red carpet, and the cushions on the pews matched perfectly, giving the whole space a lively, warm energy. At the end of each pew was a little door with the pew’s number, a detail me and the other event staff swooned over. Hanging from the ceiling was a chandelier with plastic candles, and taking up the whole back wall of the space were the gold pipes of an organ.
“The whole organ is glowing,” Emily Sprague, the opening performer, said in the middle of her set, while tuning her guitar. “The chandelier is its sidekick. And all of you are glowing purple.” Sprague is the songwriter for Florist, (a band who came on my radar for the first time earlier that same day, unrelated to me volunteering at the show). She performed solo, wearing an oversized shirt and pants to match, playing love songs at the base of the church. Their love songs were thoughtful, but ultimately made me feel like we don’t quite see eye-to-eye about what the best things about love are.
Everyone in town came out to this show – I saw acquaintances who I had met at parties, and people who I haven’t seen in years because of drama in the scene. I talked to a woman who had driven from New Hampshire to see the show, and was worried about drugs and growing old; and to a man who had driven four hours to be at the performance, from a small town in Western Massachusetts. I got to meet my friend Ethan’s mom, and hype him up to the woman who raised him. What feels better than telling someone’s mom how awesome they are? Nothing.
When the Microphones show started, I took my seat at a pew in the corner, and took my shoes up so I could curl up comfortably on the red velvet cushion. I’d never listened to the Microphones before this evening – the reason I signed up to volunteer was because I saw their name listed on a “bands who sound like Car Seat Headrest,” list.
If you don’t know either – the Microphones is the name of the early 00’s recording project Phil Elverum, also known from the band Mount Eerie. It’s a lot of punk and metal inspired actousic lo-fi. Elverum has mostly been putting work out under the name Mount Eerie, until the recent release, Microphones in 2020. When the show started, with a simple, acoustic drone punctuated with electric moments performed by a fellow musician, I didn’t know what I was in for, but it was truly badass.
Microphones in 2020 is the name of a 40+ minute song where Elverum explores memory, the body, the recording process, aging, nostalgia. The seemingly endless drone is the perfect accompaniment to the song’s vignette structure, where Elverum deftly moves between childhood, being 20, 17, 23. There were times where I wished I had the lyrics in front of me, so I could be reading along (words don’t always stick in my head the first time I hear them), but that meant I also left the show with the promise of engaging with the work again in the future.
There were moments where I wanted to snap along, to clap or laugh, or even let out an “Amen,” in honor of the church setting, but the crowd wasn’t rowdy and I didn’t want to be a disturbance. There were times where I saw a skull in the smoke wafting out of the smoke machine behind Phil, and sometimes I saw birds. There were times when my attention wandered to my own creative dreams, and I wished I’d had a notebook or a more focused attention span. But that’s also one of my favorite things that happens when I see art in public – I have the overwhelming desire to get home and start working myself.
My favorite lyric was, “I hope the absurdity that permeates everything joyfully rushes out and floods the room like water from the ceiling,” but this line was also the first time I got the haunting feeling that the song was about to end. When the song did eventually come to a close, the performers simply unplugged their instruments and briskly walked away from the stage they made out of the altar. The lights came up immediately – there isn’t an encore. For a couple of dudes playing one emo, autobiographical song for almost an hour, it was one of the most badass things I’ve seen in a while.