Jan 13, 2008

Sufjan Stevens @ State Theatre

If only time could stand still. If only you could hold a moment so perfect, that you never let it go. If only life was expressed in such beauty all the time. If only all the ugliness in the world could be shunned for one glorious night. One glorious night, when a perfect being descends into your world and dazzles and bewitches like no other. Sufjan Stevens is one such perfect being. A talent of such immense proportions that from the opening second of his show on Saturday night at the State Theatre, you just knew, with crystal clear clarity, that this would be a night that would stay with you forever.

I had great expectations for Sufjan Stevens, but he met each and everyone. And then some. Playing for a solid hour and a half, plus a two song encore, he played a well chosen selection of songs from his catalogue. He did however play quite a few numbers from the deliriously tender "Seven Swans", and naturally a slew from his classic release "Come On Feel The Illinoise!". The band numbered ten, with five brass players, plus the talents of Annie Clark (St Vincent) and Shara Worden (My Brightest Diamond) on guitar and vocals. "Seven Swans" opened the night and it was a thunderous version, slicing through the atmosphere of the venerable theatre like a knife. Without a second break he turned to the opening two songs from "Illinoise". So after 10 minutes of awe and wonder, we caught our breath. And Sufjan spoke. It turns out the man is charisma plus, full of wit and charm. He introduced "Detroit..." with a story and through the night he would give us other short anecdotes, as well as discussing his affection for Australia and its people. But it was never trite or cliched. He seemed genuinely interested in his audience, making sure that they experienced something special. Which they did. "Casimir Pulaski Day" stopped my heart cold. Such poetic beauty. And "Jacksonville" was a sheer delight, preceded by a story of how he wrote the song (too long to go into here). In the middle of the night, he played a portion of his recent "BQE" work, which was just gorgeous, as Sufjan sported a fluorescent hula hoop. The man does have a sense of humour.

If the show could possibly go up another level, it surely did. "The Predatory Wasp..." was a devastating rendition, enough to give goose bumps. This was followed by a couple of tender tunes from "Seven Swans" including "Sister" which was sublime. Then the band roared through "The Tallest Man..", with its chorus of "America, America" nearly lifting through the roof before closing with the unreleased "Majesty, Snowbird", where the whole band donned their majestic wings, adding that extra special touch to a magical night. A standing ovation was in order and the crowd duly obliged. Sufjan then returned for "The Dress Looks Nice On You" where he strummed an acoustic, before the night ended with "Chicago". A perfect ending. The night was a stunning success in every way. The brass section was majestic, filling the night with glorious sounds. Annie and Shara provided more then ample vocals and the arrangements were just superb, with each song being stretched and pulled to great effect. Raucous moments were placed next to whisper quiet moments, where Sufjan's angelic voice could be used with full purpose. Visually the show was stunning as well. Wearing matching uniforms of white pants and reflector jackets, the whole ensemble looked great. Plus the video installation was a treat for the eyes as well. And the setting was sumptuous to say the least. The State Theatre is a stunning venue, with its high golden ceilings and ornate art deco decorations. The sound was crystal clear and the lighting was spot on. My only complaint was that the theatre prevents any photography. So I don't have any visual memories of the night. But the images I witnessed will stay with me forever. The sounds, the beauty, the sheer heart breaking poetry. Sufjan Stevens is quite simply an immense talent, a sublime voice, a super talented musician who jumped from banjo to guitar to piano with sheer ease. A night locked in the memory, forever.

Set List
Seven Swans
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!'
Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)
Casimir Pulaski Day
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands
BQE (4th Movement-Abridged)
The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us!
To Be Alone With You
The Tallest Man, The Broadest Shoulders
Majesty, Snowbird

The Dress Looks Nice On You


  • At January 13, 2008 , Blogger Christof said...

    Agreed - I had a great time at this. Sufjan is just prodigious. And I have to tell you - you write excellent reviews! This is the third concert I've been to that you've reviewed (Andrew Bird, Neko Case) and you've captured it perfectly every time. Keep writing!

  • At January 14, 2008 , Blogger Wayne Massingham said...

    Thanks very much for your generous comments. It certainly makes it easier when the music is so great. I went again on Sunday night and he was just as good. Review of that night will be up shortly.

  • At January 14, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I um agree. I was there. And I cried at sporadic moments throughout!!

    Sufjan was sublime and superb.

    Damn, if your reviews weren't so bloody good, then I would be a little less intimated when I start to write mine.

    I found a live copy of Majesty, Snowbird at Pitchfork, if anyone was else was looking for it.

  • At January 14, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    We are going tonight and can't wait!
    So cameras are a definite no no? Were they checking at the door?

    Your review has made me more excited!

  • At January 14, 2008 , Blogger Wayne Massingham said...

    Biscuitsandtea, your words are very kind. And he was sublime!

    Amanda, they don't check at the door, just put the camera in your bag. However if they spot you taking photos they will ask you quickly and sternly to stop. So my advice would be, if you take photos be very discreet and don't use flash. And best of all, you will absolutely love him!

  • At January 14, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    that's a beautiful review. far better than what i managed with mine so much so i linked in to yours. :)

  • At January 14, 2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    Sunday's show was amazing - anyone have the setlist? It looks like it was similar to Saturday's.

  • At January 14, 2008 , Blogger Wayne Massingham said...

    I have the set list, he changed it a little bit, enough to keep me happy. I will post the list tonight.

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