13 October 2010
Sufjan Stevens played the venerable Massey Hall in Toronto on Wednesday and skillfully showcased material from his brand new album The Age of Adz. Toronto was his second stop in a 23 city North American tour, that finds Sufjan and his band playing in beautiful historic venues across the United States. The tour will then move on to Australia and Europe at the start of 2011.
And what a spectacle it was. Flanked by two drummers, bass, guitar, keyboards, synths, horns, and two back-up singers/dancers (11 people in all on stage), Sufjan and his band held me in rapture from the opening moments of the 12 minute epic “All Delighted People”. Yet, it wasn’t until they played “Too Much” from The Age of Adz, that I became fully immersed.
The new material from Adz is above and beyond anything he has produced thus far, mixing folk, electronica, pop, cinematic orchestra and indie rock, and filtering it all through the sensibilities of a Broadway musical. So then for me, everything he played off of Adz was an immersive and amazing adventure in live music. In short, the new stuff kicks ass — it is inspiring, off kilter, and very emotional. The show was backdropped with an impressive visual performance as well, finding inspiration and using artwork from eccentric American artist Royal Robertson.
The Age of Adz is a brilliant and challenging album. Its production value is what makes it a challenge, as it’ll take a few listens for you to take it all in, but what makes it brilliant is that by the second listen, you’ll already find the melodies glued to your brain. You’ll wake up humming the chorus to “I Walked” and end up singing the coda of “Vesuvius” in the shower. The repetitive nature of the lyrics and the simple melodies hidden under the surface makes Adz a highly accessible album, yet some may still find it too “electronic” or “layered” for their tastes, but with repeat listens it is quite rewarding…
The album climaxes with the 25-minute “Impossible Soul”, which Sufjan dubbed a “love cycle”, as there’s 5 different movements within the song. And yes, they played it live, and barely missed a beat. “Impossible Soul” is my favourite song of the year, as it embraces and exploits practically every genre of the last 50 years — from 60′s rock to Disney-esque orchestra to hip-hop to techno to simple folk. What other song features a raunchy guitar solo, an inspirational sing-a-long, and some kick ass autotune? And more importantly, what other song smashes all these genres together and does it so effectively? I’ve yet to find any other. And the fact that they pulled it off so well live was absolutely fantastic. I was singing along word for word as Sufjan started up a little dance party on the stage.
Those who showed up actually expecting him to play old songs from Illinois and Michigan, when he had just released two albums of new material, seemed a bit disappointed to have to sit through an hour and a half of unfamiliar material, yet for me (who had Adz in my possession the minute of its digital release) it was hands down the best live show of the year.
*photos courtesy of Mateusz Garbulinski
1. All Delighted People
3. Too Much
4. Futile Devices
5. The Age Of Adz
6. I Walked
7. Now That I’m Older
9. Get Real Get Right
10. Enchanting Ghost
11. The Owl and The Tanager
12. Impossible Soul
14. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
15. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.