Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Sufjan Stevens @ Royal Festival Hall, London

It’s been three weeks since the gig, and I still can’t get over how great it was. Gig of the year? Yes, I doubt Tom Vek or Death Cab can pull off a show that would come close to rivalling the amazingness that was Sufjan Steven’s at Royal Festival Hall.

I’m actually finding it hard to write about the gig, it might be the ridiculous week I’ve had, or just my brain trying to comprehend the gig. I don’t think that this piece of writing will make much sense unless you were there, or maybe it’s best for it not to make sense in the way a gig review normally conforms to. I seem to come up with these words, these paragraphs, comparisons, strings of consciousness which don’t have a point or direction. Maybe that is the point though. Maybe rationalising things, events, music like Sufjan’s isn’t how it should be viewed. Or maybe I’m just being a pretentious twat.

I didn’t expect to feel like this, or have trouble writing, I went in thinking ‘this is just another gig’ but it wasn’t. It just wasn’t. It was an experience (see, pretentiousness). It’s almost a ‘you weren’t there man’ kind of thing, where if you were there, you’d know, you’d just know. There I said it, and I’m not even sorry.

Sufjan came onto the stage with huge angel wings. I’m not sure what could have been a better opening song to contrast the boldness of the wings, or more apt for the occasion other than ‘Seven Swans’. The slow build, the anticipation or the poignant subtly and softness of his voice in contradiction to the magnificence of his winged apparel just worked. Kudos to the venue and audience as well, the sound was absolutely incredible, especially in comparison to places like The Forum or Koko, and the modern grandeur of the Royal Festival Hall a perfect vessel for a modern composer and musician such as Sufjan.

With opener performed, the wings were removed, and UV lights switched on to unveil Sufjan and band in brightly (and I hate to say this) Tron-esq coloured jump suits. Sufjan performed his new album, Age of Adz rather than jumping between albums, which can sometimes be a bit of a self important wanky thing to do for a performer/band/artist. I remember seeing Brand New play ‘Devil and God’ in it’s entireity and not speaking to the audience once. Just played and went off. It was a bit shit, but with Sufjan, the album came to life on stage, it came alive.

To finish 'The Age of Adz' was ‘Impossible Soul’ played in it’s entirety. It was a party. A wonderful party. On record, listening in the car on the M25, it was probably the one song on the album which didn’t seem to hold up, at 25mins long, the repetition of a verse/chorus in varying musical styles seemed akin to every guitar band at Reading 2007 playing unnecessary prolonged solo’s. Live, however, it was a different matter. It was a party, everyone out of their seats dancing, it puts a smile on my face just thinking about it.

If anything, the gig was a piece of performance art, not just an album. I think the album as well has grown on me, from ‘it’s a bit beepy-er than I expected’ or those calling it a ‘concept’ album, it wasn’t, and isn’t. Its something which you can see was built in full mind of the show and performance of which it would be played. I’ve never really thought that music, albums, played in entireity, in a way in which is a band or artists latest inception works, as people want to hear other songs. Even modern albums, such as Foals ‘Total Life Forever’ could never be replicated into a live show as engaging and meaningful as Sufjan to which you have to give him massive credit for.

For the encore, Sufjan returned, green t shirt, jeans, and played Casimir Pulaski Day from Illinois just with himself on the stage. The hushed silence and anticipation as to what would follow was almost electric as the rest of the band and dancers came on stage for the final song, the swan song if you will, it was Chicago, which was met from the opening chord with rapturous applause, followed by massive coloured balls falling from the ceiling bouncing around the crowd. It was a very special gig. My mess of a review doesn’t seem to do it credit. I just hope that we don’t have to wait another 5 years for him to come back to the UK.

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