There are some fairly high expectations involved when it comes to seeing one of your favourite musicians performing live. You can tarnish years of love in an instant with a poor - or even mediocre - concert. Having had the pleasure of seeing Sufjan Stevens on two of his past three trips to Australia, I had a fairly decent idea of what I was in for - and he didn't disappoint for a minute.
The evening began with a respectful rendition of his latest album, 'Carrie & Lowell'. Each song was warmly welcomed into the beautiful surrounds of the Sydney Opera House's Concert Hall - sometimes a carbon copy of the album's sound remarkably recreated in the live environment, sometimes a sound in parallel to the recorded tune but with sufficient creative license to make it sound new. No matter the interpretation, each piece of music was an awe-inspiring, beautiful experience.
Beginning with 'Death With Dignity' and working his way through the latest LP, Stevens repeatedly captivated his amenable audience with nothing more than a guitar and his exceptional vocals. At other times, his modest band would work along side him to fill the Concert Hall with the kind of noise akin to a rock concert. There was barely a moment of silence, with a subtle ambiance present throughout the performance.
SUFJAN STEVENS - SHOULD HAVE KNOWN BETTER (OFFICIAL AUDIO)
Stevens has never shied from experimentation or creativity, and this was no exception. At times, he would take cues from his 'Age Of Adz' days, working electronic loops into his folksy songs, such as the tail end of 'Should Have Known Better'. Similarly, the projection incorporated into the performance portrayed a very personal part of the musician's earlier life, incorporating film footage of his family from his younger days. Being a part of Vivid, it was also no surprise that the lighting was a work of art unto itself, frequently as beautiful or emotional as the music.
Within the two hour-plus show, it was also fantastic to hear a diverse variety of Stevens' older tunes, a rare treat in his live performances. From obscurely brooding tunes like 'The Owl And The Tanager' to fan favourite 'Casimir Pulaski Day', a huge amount of ground was covered in a relatively short space of time. Even the encore was generous - four songs in all - and culminated in nothing less than the unequivocal 'Chicago'. It's still impossible to hear that song and not have a shiver run down my spine as the trumpet transitions to Sufjan gently singing, "If I was crying in the van with my friend, it was for freedom from myself and from the land."
This is truly an unmissable performance for any music-lover. If you haven't had the chance to experience Sufjan Stevens live, fear not - he's here for another two nights, and better yet, tickets are still available. This is an artist whose quiet, gentle nature can create a rollercoaster of emotions inside of you, dipping from inconsolable sadness to exuberant joy in a heartbeat. Whatever you do, just don't miss the ride.
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