As reported previously, on Monday I ventured with Arleta to Dundee in order to meet up with Cully in order to venture to Glasgow, in order to meet up with a busload of lovely folk in order to venture to Gateshead to catch Mr Sufjan Stevens in action. (Upon initial inspection, this may seem like a roundabout way of getting to the gig, but in order to return home by early Tuesday morning we had no other option – and it was actually more convenient and economical than travelling from St Andrews to Gateshead.)
We eventually arrived, unfortunately not in time to catch the opening act, DM Stith (and to my great displeasure). Before the show I recalled my experience seeing Converge in Glasgow last summer, at which I intentionally avoided the merchandise table only to discover that the band had been selling an exclusive 7″ pressing for their European tour. In order to avoid a potential reliving of such a [minor] tragedy I decided to peruse Sufjan’s merchandise table. There was nothing very special about the merchendise, but I did decide to purchase The BQE on vinyl, which came with this comic book that I had heard so much about:
The comic was written by Sufjan Stevens and illustrated by Stephen Halker (with a cover watercolour by Matt Loux). It shares an episode of the adventures of the Super Teenage Hooper Heroes (along with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the stars of ‘The BQE’ film), who face their arch-nemesis, Captain Moses (aka, ‘The Man’). What a fine treat, although even better things were on the way!
Our bus was split in small groups throughout the main hall (which was as exquisite as I had expected). Arleta, Helen, Cully, and I sat on the second level, to the right of the stage. The view was actually pretty incredible. Eventually Sufjan and his band made their way to the stage and, accompanied by a massive background screen with constantly-animated visuals, opened up the show with a jarring (in a good, apocalyptic way) version of the title track from 2004’s Seven Swans. The whole show is so dense with motifs and imagery (it’s definitely a multi-sensory experience) that I will not spend much time giving details, but I do have a few photos (and one video) to share!
Sufjan Stevens live at The Sage, Gateshead, England, 16 May 2011
1. ‘Seven Swans’
2. ‘Too Much’
3. ‘Age of Adz’
4. ‘Enchanting Ghost’
5. ‘I Walked’
6. ‘The Owl and the Tanager’
7. ‘Get Real, Get Right’
While Sufjan’s banter was consistent throughout the show, he took a significant amount of time to deliver what was basically an informal lecture on the life and work of Royal Robertson, an outsider artist whose artwork was used for many of The Age of Adz‘ themes as well as the album design.
9. ‘All For Myself’
10. ‘I Want to Be Well’
‘Futile Devices’ was performed as it appears on The Age of Adz until the end, when one of the multiple keyboardists (affectionately known to me as ‘Space Jesus’) came to centre-stage, equipped with his Casio.
12. ‘Impossible Soul’
Sufjan wrapped up the set with the final track from The Age of Adz, which boasts a running time of more than twenty-five minutes on the album. Unfortunately I didn’t time the live performance, but it must have run longer than thirty minutes; yet every minute was engrossing (which was assisted by the multiple elaborate and bizarre costumes Sufjan wore throughout the song).
For me the show ended somewhat disappointingly. It had nothing to do with the performance, but rather the atmosphere of the crowd. For starters, it wasn’t a sold out gig. When a massive venue is not packed to capacity there is a noticeable lack of energy. Also, while The Sage is a beautiful venue, the vast majority in attendance were assigned to seats, thus making Sufjan’s repeated urge to the crowd to ‘boogie-woogie’ virtually useless. I suppose that even the people who bought tickets for the standing section would have felt strange being the only people in the venue dancing while also being situated front and centre – like they’re part of the show.
My disappointment finds its culmination in the fact that for the most part the crowd didn’t seem into the gig until the encore, ‘Chicago’. Now I must make clear that I am a huge Sufjan Stevens fan, and while 2005’s Illinois is an incredible record, and while it features some of my favourite songs (like ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr’), it didn’t live up to Sufjan’s earlier records in my opinion. I always considered ‘Chicago’ (the runaway hit from Illinois) a good-not-great song, but it is probably one of Sufjan’s more accessible, least sombre tracks, so I wasn’t surprised that the whole crowd sang it (and it was truly great that they loved it so much). But I really think that The Age of Adz is an incredibly profound, dramatic, personal, and ground-breaking record and I just wish that the crowd had been ‘feeling it’ throughout the whole show, not merely at the encore. For instance, during ‘Impossible Soul’ there was a massive dance party on stage (as is partially evidenced in the photo above), but it was sad to realise that while Sufjan wanted to get the whole place in an uproar, most stood/sat absolutely still. That’s my rant and I didn’t want to end on a sour note, so here are some fun pictures of what was ultimately a very good encore performance of ‘Chicago’ (and in typical Sufjan Stevens fashion, balloons dropped from the ceiling)!