Secret Meeting score: 92
by Philip Moss
As I queued, waiting to get into the Left Bank in Leeds – a beautiful multidisciplinary, Grade II listed, gothic church – there was a sense of unease floating along the line. An eerie anticipation for what was to come. Everyone knew the back story to 39-year old Phil Elverum’s new record, A Crow Looked At Me, and the reason behind the consequent tour he has embarked on. But, no one talked about it. It was unavowed. Unspoken.
Just after 8pm, under twinkling fairy lights, he shuffled onto the stage. Unpacked his acoustic guitar. Stood in the dead centre of the church. Nervously ruffled his receding hair. Looked up to the heavens. And, a dead silence descended on the holy room. ‘Hey, I’m Phil,’ he humbly whispered. The public wake had begun.
Across the next hour and 15 minutes, Phil delivered what can only be described as one of the most humbling experiences I have ever witnessed and, but for the sound of his lonely guitar and brittle voice, you could have heard the squeak and scurries of the resident church mouse. Each song – the performance included almost all of the record, together with a late procession of thematically-linked new songs – brought muted, respectful response.
Every syllable from Crow’s opener, Death Is Real, delivered a pang of blunt grief – ‘Death is real. Someone’s here and then they’re not.’ His stare was numb. He’s visibly still coming to terms with what he has experienced over the last 17 months and unfurled emotion you cannot begin to empathise with. Then, without a flinch, came the song’s killer verse: ‘A week after you died a package with your name on it came. And inside was a gift for our daughter you had ordered in secret. And collapsed there on the front steps I wailed. A backpack for when she goes to school a couple years from now. You were thinking ahead to a future you must have known deep down would not include you.’
Only Phil will know whether the process of writing, recording and performing these harrowing songs for a world of strangers to hear has offered him any sort of cathartic relief. On behalf of the entire audience, it certainly felt like an honour to pay our respects with him.
RIP Geneviève Castrée Elverum.