Jan 14, 2008

Sufjan Stevens @ State Theatre (Second Show); Or How I Fell In Love With A Man Of Song; Or How Brooklyn Connected With Sydney; Or Bless Great Music

When tickets for the Sydney Festival first went on sale back in November, I was pretty sure I needed to see Sufjan Stevens twice. But, what if his first show was good, but not memorable? What if the second show was a carbon copy of the first? What if all his stories were just repeated? You know, how silly was I. Basically, I can state this. Why didn't I buy tickets for all three nights? The man is a living treasure, a precious songbird warbling in the night, an exquisite jewel encrusted with diamonds of pure joy. Excuse me for rambling, but he was that good. By the way, the video above is from his Brisbane show on Thursday, the BQE Hula Hoop extravaganza.

Sunday night he started with "Sister", its dramatic interlude piercing the night air. Then when he started discussing the geographical certitudes of Michigan and launched into "The Upper Peninsula", I knew I had nothing to worry about. The night would be sublime and so it proved. Another surprise was him playing "The Avalanche". The album that it gives its name to is quite wonderful, so it was nice to hear a nod in that direction. Of course, great songs like "Chicago" and "Jacksonville" were aired again, duly appreciated. But I was thrilled to hear "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", a song delivered with such quivering emotion that I could feel my knees buckling. As he showed on Saturday night, Sufjan is quite a raconteur. His elaborate and elongated story of his visit to Bondi Beach, where he travelled with nail polish and sun block and ipod and a million other things was at once bewildering and eternally charming. That it turned into a story of plumbing the depths of the ocean to encounter a mythic wasp creature was a thing of epic hilarity. That it preceded a revelatory rendition of "The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!" was nothing short of astounding. After I picked my jaw off the plush carpet and focused on the matter at hand, I noticed he was playing "Barn Owl, Night Killer" (it went missing on Saturday, so it was good to hear on this night). "Abraham" was plucked from "Seven Swans"and Sufjan duly plucked his acoustic with tender fingers. I should mention here that I am far from being a believer in any form of greater being or any kind of organised religion. And it is well known that Sufjan is a devout Christian, no more evident then on "Seven Swans". However I feel that he is a pure spiritual being. No dogma or Hillsong hypocrisy. When he weaves his beliefs into a song, it is done with an honest heart and pure intent. In fact, I barely notice. He is telling his story, not telling me what my story should be. Humbly, that is my view anyway. On with the show. "Majesty, Snowbird" brought out the wings again and playing past the scheduled end time the band launched into "Chicago" to bring a well earned standing ovation. To say the encore finished perfectly with "Casimir Pulaski Day" is stating the starkly obvious. Sufjan pulling away from the microphone and creaking out a last dying verse will stay with me forever.

It would be a given to say that the band was in magnificent form again. The arrangements are quite complex and diverse, yet they never missed a note. They alternately lifted the roof and they also massaged the most tender of quiet moments. They followed Sufjan everywhere he went. To the highest notes and to the most touching of moments. As they left the stage, Sufjan grateful to the extreme, I thought life can be magical, music can be a gathering of people looking for the same thing. The stars can be aligned to place us somewhere momentous. Transcendental.

"And in my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floor boards
For the secrets I have hid."

Set List
The Upper Peninsula
The Avalanche
Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
The Black Hawk War, or, How to Demolish an Entire Civilization and Still Feel Good About Yourself in the Morning, or, We Apologize for the Inconvenience But You're Going to Have to Leave Now, or, 'I have fought the Big Knives and will continue to fight them until they are off our lands!'
Come On! Feel The Illinoise!
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
Barn Owl, Night Killer
Seven Swans
Majesty, Snowbird

BQE (4th Movement-Abridged)
Casimir Pulaski Day


  • At January 15, 2008 , Anonymous cscs said...

    hula hooper extraordinaire. haha. i was at one of the brooklyn showings, it was quite wondrous. i'm glad australia's getting a taste of it.

  • At January 15, 2008 , Blogger Rachel said...

    Oh dear too much Sufjan Stevens talk! Too much! :-)

  • At January 15, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the fantastic reviews of the Sat and Sun Sufjan shows. (Love the title to this blog too!) If I'd been able to afford it, I would've attended all three too - alas I was only able to attend last night's incredible performance.

    Although I'm bummed to have missed the nights in which Sister (one of my dearest Sufjan faves) was performed, at least after reading your reviews I can now feel confident that last night's show was the best of the run ;)

    There's a great review of last night + the set list at A Reminder: http://www.a-reminder.org/music/?p=913.

    --(Another) Rachel, a passerby

  • At January 15, 2008 , Anonymous nikki said...

    i just wanted to marry him.
    lucky sydney, brisbane didn't get to hear All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands or Casimir Pulaski Day.

  • At January 15, 2008 , Anonymous Dave said...

    Fantastic reviews Wayne. Was lucky enough to experience Sufjan last night. Just AMAZING! Very shagadelic too!

  • At January 15, 2008 , Blogger Pam said...

    Damn, why didn't I buy tickets for all 3 nights either?! I would have loved to hear The Avalanche, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. and his many ramblings. It's fantastic that he didn't repeat himself each night as some (most?) artists do. The more I think about this show, the greater it appears. What a magical, fantastic experience.

    I suddenly feel like digging out the old hula hoop from the garage. I hope it's still there! ;D

  • At January 15, 2008 , Anonymous Emma said...

    I noticed the hula-hoop girl looks VERY similar to the girl pictured on his A Sn Came! album, on 2 inside cover pics. I am sort of assuming this is his girlfriend?
    Thank you so much, I appreciate the review, I flew from Darwin to Sydney, and saw the Sunday night show ~ I almost cried in one song.. and now with your set list I can find which one!

  • At January 16, 2008 , Blogger Wayne said...

    Thanks everyone for the wonderful comments. I think Sufjan has had a profound effect on everyone that has been lucky enough to see him.

    Pam, I have added you as a link.

  • At January 19, 2008 , Blogger Pam said...

    Oh, thanks for that! I'm working on getting you linked back because it's not really my blog, it's my friend's. I just tend to post on it a hell of a lot. ;D

  • At January 29, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Thanks for the great review. I was there Saturday...unbelievable show!Sufjan introduced the hula hooper as his friend Elaine. I believe she was also featured in the NY performances of The BQE, and is the main character in his film.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home