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Live In Japan: February 19th, 21st & 22nd, 2003

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Album Review

Recorded over the course of three separate days in Japan in February 2003, this isn't your typical live album rehashing familiar studio material. The songs were all new at the time they were performed, and indeed were reported to be but a sampling of new songs presented by Microphones singer/songwriter Phil Elvrum during the two-week tour, composed after spending five isolated months in Norway. Remember how haunted Neil Young sounded when he sang "Cowgirl in the Sand" alone, acoustically, on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young's Four Way Street? That's how Elvrum sounds here, particularly on the solo acoustic opener, "Great Ghosts," though he's a little wackier and more unstable, as if the strangest solo Neil Young had been imbued with a little of the spirit of Jandek. (Whether in a conscious tribute or not, one of the songs is actually titled "After N. Young.") Playing both solo and with sparse backup accompaniment (with Calvin Johnson joining on a couple of numbers), Elvrum has a talent for penning and (shakily) singing tunes of creepy vulnerability in the manner of the better acid folkies — not just Neil Young, but also more obscure oddballs like Dino Valente and Craig Smith (aka Satya Sai Maitreya Kali). The brief snatches of "My Favorite Things" and "Silent Night" are a little irritating, and the instrumental execution a little sloppy (though when it comes to K Records, they might take that as a compliment). But this is cool stuff that's as prettily solitary as it is unnerving, with phenomenally super-low backup vocals by Johnson on "Universe Conclusion" and "I Love You So Much."


Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

The Microphones was the alias of Anacortes, WA-based lo-fi psych-pop mastermind Phil Elvrum, also known for his work as a member of K Records bands D+ and Old Time Relijun. Following a series of cassettes on the local Knw-Yr-Own label, including Wires and Cords, Tests, and a self-titled effort, the Microphones issued their first full-length effort, also titled Tests, on the Elsinor label in the autumn 1999. Don't Wake Me Up appeared on K the next summer, followed in 2000 by Window and It Was Hot...
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Live In Japan: February 19th, 21st & 22nd, 2003, Microphones
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