Live at the State Theatre
For the Sydney Festival
January 12, 2008.
I drove 275km from Canberra and I was wearing a brand new t-shirt. That’s right, a brand new t-shirt. It has Japanese writing on it. I don’t even know what it means! You know me, I’m a real wild guy.
I don’t get out much to experience live music so this show was pretty special for me. In trying to share the experience with you, bear in mind that I can’t remember every song I heard.
The concert started with Seven Swans and was accompanied throughout by a gigantic kaleidoscopic slide show. They had even filmed Sydney scenes, including our archetypal Opera House. "Strange fins rising out of the ground." Sufjan also told us that he thought of Australia as, “Sun bleached blonde hair and koalas.” No worries. We’re used to that.
My favourite thing was the symphonic nature of the experience and that is of course the maestro’s signature. We were treated to an excerpt from his piece The BQE. It was Part 4 from memory and included a champion hula-hooper. Nice work if you can get it.
The brass section went off at every available opportunity. We were blessed with a smoking hot saxophone solo and the 2nd trumpet provided a rock solid foundation for the 1st trumpet to sound the sweet and glorious high notes. He hit them every time.
You can probably tell I really missed the string section, but Jackonsville and Detroit, Lift your weary head and Sister were real gems.
We heard Sufjan’s between song banter. The man knows how to tell a story, even if the audience has no idea what it is about. Listening to it, you get a glimpse of the personal experiences which have served to make the universal sound we all love.
I don’t know if Casimir Pulaski Day includes the intense bell ringing on Illinois which is its source. The bells signal that this aching, beautiful, haunting song is at heart an elegy and we got a real feel for that when he sung it.
At one point, he told the audience that, “We were extremely well behaved.” I took that as a sign to respond with a huge yell: “Show us yer wings!” I had to prove we’re just a bunch of yobs Down Under. In response, he launched straight into The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades.
We saw the wings later when the entire band donned them for the finale, Majesty Snowbird. Although it is hard for me to pick a favourite Sufjan song, this one is right up there for me. We learnt that this anthem is a tribute to a common, ugly bird, that ekes an existence out of winter. It was a joy to see Sufjan hammering the piano at the piece’s apogee.
For the encore, Sufjan returned and sang The Dress Looks Nice On You solo and then the band launched into a rollicking version of Chicago. Good choice.
The story doesn’t end there. Joe and I left and power-walked through the squalid night life of Darling Harbour to burn off the energy of the experience. It took nearly an hour. As we were walking back to the train station, I said, “Let’s go back past the theatre.”
There stood an exhausted Mr Stevens out the front, surrounded by the accoutrements of his trade. I stood idly by and watched while he stoically endured the ravings of a rabid fan. Think, “Your music is really sensitive but not in an emo way…” Man, give the guy a break, he writes Symphonies about freeways. I think he knows he is sensitive.
Finally, someone grabbed him and started pulling him to a car. I took the chance to slap him on the shoulder – yes, I touched him – and say, “The brass is fantastic. You should do a live album.” He turned around, looked me right in the eye, and said, “I know. I know.”
Hey. I’m waiting.
This exchange goes to show two things: great minds think alike and that Sufjan really really understands me! Seriously.