Concert Review: Sufjan Stevens, Oct 13, Massey Hall

TorontoSufjan Stevens played Massey Hall last Wednesday night. It was an epic night of music, interspersed with some quiet acoustic moments that gave the crowd some breaks. Well-deserved breaks, because Sufjan and his 10-piece band were conjuring up some crazy madness. It was a sensory overload smorgasbord. While some of his new material was a little taxing, like the 25 minute long Impossible Love, it was still a rewarding night for live music.

The set list was dominated by Sufjan’s most recent album, The Age of Adz, released earlier this week. The album is based on the art of Royal Robertson, a deeply troubled schizophrenic that was consumed by his art. His themes mostly revolved around the apocalypse, but also about love; and maybe just a teeny bit about a love for the apocalypse. The album is more electronic sounding than we’re used to, but the digital artefacts are balanced against lush strings and brass sections; so it still very much feels like a Sufjan Stevens original.

“Oh no! Sufjan is going to play another one his sad acoustic songs.” – Sufjan Stevens

This Massey Hall concert was decidedly different from his last visit to Toronto just over a year ago (review here). That was an informal affair at Lee’s Palace, with Sufjan wearing some kind of toque and  working out some kind of kinks with his new material. He was playing with a pared down band and was about to enter a musical hibernation of sorts. Fast forward one year and the band is bigger, tight like a toiger, and playing with both confidence and purpose.

There was a lot of sheer musicianship emanating from that stage. Most of the ensemble were playing from scores, but you wouldn’t have guessed it had you closed your eyes. There were two drummers playing in perfect lockstep; they were communicating with each other using only the force. It made for some seriously stellar propulsion; like an unstoppable rhythm avalanche. A rythmalanche, if you will. Add to that roster two trombone players, a bassist, a piano player, two female vocalists, a guitarist, opener DM Stith providing more vocals, and you’ve got yourself one big sound smacking you right square in the teeth.

“Thanks for putting up with me, while I cover my own songs.” – Sufjan Stevens explaining all the music sheets scattered about the stage

This show was a production. That was an understatement. This sentence is filler. The female vocalists started the evening wearing amazing space costumes. Thankfully, we knew they were spacewomen thanks to the pink detailing on the shoulders. That was a nice touch. They also had wicked choreographed dance moves. As this was happening, some impressive stoner-friendly apocalyptic animations were epilepting on screen. Off to the right we had a hippie version of General Zod blasting on the trombone. I spent most of my night trying to figure out what to concentrate on. It was like eating a big Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings, while also trying to polish off an entire watermelon.

Some of it was a little much, but it was still delicious. I regret nothing.

Here is the set list:

  1. Heavy song
  2. Quiet song
  3. Heavy song
  4. Quiet song
  5. Heavy song
  6. Quiet song

OK, OK, here is the real set list:

  1. All Delighted People
  2. Heirloom
  3. Too Much
  4. Futile Devices
  5. Age of Adz
  6. I Walked
  7. Now That I’m Older
  8. Vesuvius
  9. Get Real Get Right
  10. Enchanting Ghost
  11. The Owl and the Tanager
  12. Impossible Soul
  13. Chicago
  1. Concerning the UFO Sighting
  2. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

Sufjan Stevens – Too Much by strikegently

Posted on by Mark in Concerts