The Microphones played Somerville Theatre – 3/7

Phil Elverum brought his first tour as The Microphones in nearly 20 years to Davis Square’s Somerville Theatre earlier this month.

We’ve spilled a quite a bit of ink here at Noise Floor regarding Microphones in 2020 – singer/songwriter Phil Elverum’s single-song, 44-minute revival of his beloved early ’00s project. It was my album of the year for 2020, and my esteemed colleague Mike Doub and I went long on it for a chatroom piece that summer. Nearly two years later, I finally had the opportunity to see that stunning record come to life on stage.

Elverum would be the first to tell you that this year’s live engagements are not a Microphones reunion tour. It’s right there in the lyrics of the record, in fact: “Bands that break up and then reunite for money can do whatever they want / But it makes me glad that I am only this one contrary grump, impossible to reunite.” And indeed, there was no such pretense here. The Microphones in 2022 are not even so much a band, stripping back the elemental rumble of 2020 (the sole song performed on the tour) to its barest essentials of Elverum on acoustic guitar and electric bass, joined only by a second guitarist and the occasional triggered recording.

In the end, the presentation only rendered the piece even more powerful. The packed room hung on every word of Elverum’s sprawling autobiographical narrative as it swung dramatically from hushed fireside acoustics to an ocean of drone-doom low-end and back again. This would be the only flourish added to the work: an emphasized contrast between its softest and harshest acoustics that took advantage of the immersiveness only live sound can really provide.

Unlikely as it sounds on the surface, the entrancing nature of this single multi-movement piece (and aforementioned forays into drone territory) brought to mind performances by volume-worshippers Sunn O))) moreso than any other artist I could comfortably refer to as folk. Then again, the record does make a specific nod to a Mayhem song sung by current Sunn O))) vocalist Attila Csihar so, perhaps not such a stretch after all.

There would be no encore or fan requests at the end of the set, just a humble wave from Phil before a standing ovation. And really, what more would there have been to say? Microphones in 2020 lays bare more than enough ideas about identify, creativity, self-mythology and the very nature of living to keep one thinking long after the house lights come up.

Scroll down for a gallery from the evening, including opener Emily A. Sprague (of Florist) and a couple of film frames taken with my Mercury II, a camera that strangely enough came into my orbit after being name-dropped by Elverum in regards to the Microphones in 2020 companion photo book.