Saturday, February 12, 2011
Live Review - Sufjan Stevens Opera house Wellington New Zealand
Off the back of two releases (All Delighted People EP and Age of Adz) last year, Sufjan Stevens playing at the historic Wellington Opera House was sure to be a must see live show. Bringing with him an 11 piece band and his having two completely different sounding albums released you could only imagine what was to come, surprisingly with all that punch in terms of musicianship it was the visual aspect of the show that hit me the most.
Kicking off the set was the song Seven Swans from the album of the same name, that what got me most about this first track was the visual explosion that was before us. Not only did they use one screen behind the band throwing incredible visual effects at us, but also a screen was in front of the band at certain points during the show, putting forth an equally impressive laser show. It was a nice way to start the set, the song was unexpected for me but was a nice surprise.
After this it was into his new material, starting with the track Too Much and the first chance to find out how his electronic driven experimental songs come through in a live setting. To be short its a hit, the whole performance is tight and down to even the back up singers choreographed dance moves being perfect. You can see already that Sufjan has put in a lot of effort into the live show, wanting to make it a special night.
At the end of the track he starts to explain things about the songs and album Age of Adz to the audience, this goes on throughout the set and while this could've been boring, he has this sort of dry humour that he incorporates into it which gives everyone a good laugh at the time. The first example was a broken string during Too Much, after explaining it was the first time he's done this, he tells the crowd "I'm just going to get this string fixed, go get a drink or something".
To breakup all the electronic/experimental aspects he seperates them with tracks from the All Delighted People, a much more Sufjan-like album, much more acoustic and folk driven which settles things down in the set and shows his softer side to the audience. He has the audience in the palm of his hand by this point and completely changes everything up with the track Age of Adz. This track is a lot fuller in sound to the earlier songs and it fuses beautifully with the visuals creating a small epic.
The set continues to produce more visual effects mixing in with those aurally, but as explained by Sufjan, Age of Adz is music about different body movements and this is where he takes dance moves to a weird but cool change. He makes you cringe and laugh while he rocks his moves throughout the Age of Adz tracks, what gets you is that while this might seem ridiculous to you, this idea has spawned not only some great tracks but as a whole a great album.
The tracks Heirloom and Owl & the Tanager are the only other All Delighted EP songs that appear in the set which are surrounded by I Walked, All for Myself, Vesuvius, Get real Get Right, Futile Devices. Now while all these tracks were amazing, they were all in a losing battle if put against the 25 minute Impossible Soul, it had everything and more. The Visual aspect was ramped up even higher to incorporate even more things to look at, Sufjan wearing a Priscilla Queen of the Desert like head wear, while the rest of his band were wearing even more flamboyant outfits than the black with highlighter strips covering.
Now for the performance of the song, it was very much to script early on, nothing out of the ordinary until the tempo lifted and this got not only the band but the crowd in a frenzy, confetti falling on the band, balloons falling onto the crowd, Sufjan jumping crazily around the stage with his backup singers, everyone in the crowd finally out of their seat. You could say that while this song was already incredible, in a live setting its lifts to another level, one you wouldn't expect from it. With it being so long you might think it'll never end and you kind of wish it didn't, but by the end you know the band has put everything into the performance.
Now the cliché encore starts, this time Sufjan comes out alone to play piano and as the first note of Concerning the Ufo Sighting Near Highland, Illinois from my personal favourite Sufjan album "Illinois" the crowd were right back into it, some for the first time in the show singing along. Once this was over Sufjan was joined by the rest of his band and he played another from Illinois, this time it was another of the better tracks Cashmir Pulaski Day. It again was a hit with the crowd and the continuation of the slower, warm down like ending after such a burst that Impossible Soul produced. Finally thanking the crowd and informing us that he had only one song to play, the feeling of the end was near, but what was produced was nothing less than the highlight for me. Playing arguably the best track in his discography Sufjan with his backing band played Chicago. Again the crowd were out of their seats singing and dancing till the end. Such a spectacular song and a fine finish to not only an aurally pleasing
performance but visually the most amazing show I've been to.