The Portuguese author Fernando Pessoa once scribbled on a piece of paper a single line that read, “To be reincarnated in a stone or a speck of dust — my soul weeps with this yearning.” This brief sentiment is one of many renunciations to appear in the posthumously published “The Book of Disquiet,” a fragmentary, melancholic work detailing the mind of one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.
It’s unclear whether Pessoa regards “dust” as symbolic of something more, or less, than the human experience. For Richard Reed Parry, a multi-instrumentalist and founding member of Grammy Award-winning rock band Arcade Fire, the word signals all we are, or ought to perceive ourselves as, in the face of nature’s all-encompassing force and beauty. Released earlier this year, Quiet River of Dust Vol. 2: That Side of the River is Parry’s second record and an immersive tribute to Mother Earth inspired by a trip he took to Japan in 2008.
Chirping birds and ambient synth notes filled the room as Parry embarked on the evening’s opener, “Gentle Pulsing Dust” from his 2018 prequel album Quiet River of Dust Vol. 1: This Side of the River. Parry’s voice was gentle and hypnotic as he began: “First the rain begins, the quiet it settles in, and it’s awesome.” Oscillating samples and campfire-esque acoustics underpinned the song, reeling listeners into a serene forest landscape before exploding into a thunderous refrain (“And it rains for a seventh day”). A Pitchfork review of the album describes Parrys’ command of sound and scene “as if he were leading a cult-ceremony salute to nature’s higher power.” On several occasions, the entire band pitched in to create loud, choral bursts, layering Parry’s stretching vocals with an appropriately hymnal quality.
On the outset of “Lost in the Waves,” a story of abandonment and transformation from the point of view of a young child lost at sea, Parry summed up the show’s mood. “It’s sad, but it’s also happy,” he said, as the sound of ocean breezes washed over the crowd. The hushed, rain-kissed scenery of Parry’s folk project are a far cry from Arcade Fire’s suburban wastelands. There are no houses, towns nor tunnels save for those leading inward in Quiet River, and an overwhelming sense of being one with nature underscores both albums. “What separates us from dissolving into the experience around us?” Parry asks on his website. “It’s a feeling I’ve definitely had many times, where the boundaries of self and world are permeable to the point of disorientation.”
Vol. 1’s penultimate track and the last scheduled performance of the night was the deeply tranquil “I Was In The World (Was The World In Me).” Plucky, cyclical guitar licks led the way as nearly deafening atmospheric notes swallowed the audience, transforming the moment into an outright sound bath. “This record, the songs are also referencing that nebulous psychic territory when you lose your most familiar world, when the village of your childhood disappears and you try to relocate yourself in a different one,” Parry continues. In a bittersweet answer to this void, the entire crowd participated in the band’s encore performance of Vol. 2’s singalong “Long Way Back.” An uplifting community of voices closed the night: “It’s a long way home, it’s a long way back,” the audience sang.
And indeed it is for the Canadian polymath. Fortunately, Parry’s affection for this island nation means he’ll probably be back soon.