The Microphone’s Phil Elvrum changes his name and his tunes
Phil Elvrum is not America’s best songwriter; he is her best song rewriter. His personal diary is also his songbook, and his songs throb with the true light of living matter. As new days come and go, his songs change with the experiences just encountered, expanding and contracting as the importance of events is reconsidered. Recording under the moniker The Microphones and now Mount Eerie, Elvrum has amassed a catalog of gloriously unfinished ideas, tiny serial adventures that the listener must follow on their winding and endless path.
So on this Friday night, “I Want to Be Cold” became wish fulfillment: the singer waking up deep in a snow bank and cursing himself for the stupidity of wanting purity. There might have been seven new verses added to this song since its recording just two years ago, and the new ending, a desperate repetition of the plea “Let’s get out of the romance,” completely turns the original’s quixotic notions of nature on their head.
Even more dramatic is the transformation of Elvrum’s staggering “I Felt Your Shape” into a lament of love lost. Where the original turned the lovers’ chance meeting in the kitchen into an epiphanic moment, now—as the new lyrics reveal—"there are no hugs in the kitchen, no arms around me.”
All of this might leave members of the audience (who have paid good money to hear the songs they like, after all) scratching their heads. But Elvrum makes up for this constant rewriting by maintaining the delicate melodies of each piece, even while changing the setting of those melodies. During the first half of his set, Elvrum accompanied himself on steel drum, an instrument never heard on any of his releases nor played at any of his local appearances before this night. Yet, each song was instantly recognizable, its melody intact and unspoiled in this new package.
At this point in his career, Elvrum seems obsessively unable to leave his songs alone, but the results are glorious, and one hopes he never stops.