Tag: Sufjan Stevens
Oh the subjectivity! Trying to decide on my favorite shows from the last few years is truly a difficult proposition. For this post I’m just going to talk about shows that were not a part of bigger festivals. These shows serve as a sampling of events that had such an impact that I can still remember them today.
Hot IQs – Farewell show at The Bluebird – June 19, 2009: The first Denver band I ever got in to was Hot IQs. I would listen to them on KCSU in Fort Collins when I was in high school. I saw them a few times before their farewell show, and every time was something special. Their at-capacity grand finale at the Bluebird was no exception: burlesque dancers, a Cookie Monster costume, and some of the catchiest pop-rock this city has ever known.
Hot Congress Prevue – Patrick Kelly’s Apartment – October 16, 2009: Pulling up to the ill-kept apartment building on Pearl St. had me second-guessing my choice to go downtown until I got inside and experienced the wild house party thrown by Hot Congress. That night introduced me to a bunch of great acts: Old Radio (now Amazing Twin), Night of Joy, the Jim Jims, and Fissure Mystic.
Everything Absent or Distorted – Farewell show at the Bluebird – October 24, 2009: I cannot remember a more raucous, energetic, and ultimately melancholy show than EAoD’s last big gig. Playing through every song they had ever written (and then some), the 11+ members of EAoD kept going until nearly 3 am.
Brand New – The Fillmore – January 30, 2010: Another throw back to my high school years, Brand New has always had a special place in my music library. As I grew up my tastes changed and Brand New changed along with them. No longer an emo-troupe, they brought their newer style of manic Lonesome Crowded West-inspired music to the Fillmore in a set that celebrated the new while appreciating the old.
Tjutjuna & Fissure Mystic – 7″ Split release at Meadowlark – February 5, 2010: Apart from Dick Dale (king of the surf guitar), the loudest show I have ever been to was Tjutjuna at the Meadowlark. With Woodsman and Fissure Mystic opening, it was certainly a night of intense psych the likes of which I have seldom seen replicated.
Julian Lynch – The Low Key – May 20, 2010: On an unassuming street in north Fort Collins sat a rather normal looking house. This was no ordinary house, it was the residence of Matt Sage who had dubbed it “The Lowkey.” During his time there Matt hosted shows for the underground and experimental alike. I happened to be in Ft. Collins one summer when Julian Lynch came through for a set of experimental tunes. I still remember sitting in that basement taking in the sound and color.
Denver Does Denver 2010 – August 28, 2010: It was fitting that my return from Chicago was marked by a showcase of Denver music and art. Hearing Safe Boating is No Accident take on Pee Pee, Pink Hawks doing Bad Weather California, and the Flobots performing Hot IQs made this an unforgettable event.
Sufjan Stevens – The Paramount – November 2, 2010: Last fall was undoubtedly the hardest academic semester I ever undertook. This had me feeling down on most things, concerts included. Fortunately I was lifted out of my funk by the prolific Sufjan Stevens. This performance helped me realize how magnificent The Age of Adz really is.
Hello Kavita – Farewell show at the Hi-Dive – December 28, 2010: Of all the times I saw Hello Kavita, this one was my favorite. Not only did Roger, Roll open (it was their farewell show too), but Hello Kavita played one of the fullest sets I can recall. From old and new originals, to Steely Dan covers, and a mash-up of “Colorado” with Paul Simon’s “You Can Call Me Al,” it was Hello Kavita at their best.
Bad Weather California – Rhinoceropolis – February 18, 2011: I will close with this show, because it stands as a harbinger of things to come. While I only went to the Rhinoceropolis a few times during the life of SLS, I was always impressed by the nature of the place: it is a venue that encourages innovation. Bad Weather California has played the warehouse space more times than most, and as the group prepares for the release of their new full-length I can’t help but wonder where they’ll go and what kind of audience they’ll reach.
Somewhere along the way I put aside my point-and-click camera and got serious about concert photography. The first event where I used a DSLR was the 2009 Mile High Music Festival because their photo policy prohibited any other kind of camera in the pits. From there on out I fell in love with the art of photography and tried to capture the experiences I had through photos. Looking back on the last couple of years, here are my favorite 10 shots.
The Fray – MHMF 2009: As someone who had very little experience with a more-professional camera, I was surprised at some of the great shots I got that hot weekend in July of 2009. The Fray closed out my experience at Mile High with a real spectacle: U2′s old stage rig, a big crowd, and a sense of completion.
Monotonix – Monolith 2009: While not a particularly great shot, I will always remember this set from the now-defunct Monolith Festival. It’s the kind of picture that would offend most anyone, therefore it has a certain charm and power that your average concert photo can’t achieve.
Paean – Hodi’s Half Note, December 27, 2009: Being from Fort Collins I found myself up there for the holidays without much to do. When I saw that Danielle Ate The Sandwich was playing a show with a few Act So Big Forest bands at Hodi’s (formerly The Starlight, as I knew it), I said, “Why not?” As it turns out Hodi’s has one of the best light rigs in Northern Colorado. This shot matches great lighting, ambient fog, and perspective in a way that I have seldom replicated.
The Knew – Pulperia release party at the Bluebird, March 6, 2010: At a time when people were just starting to figure out what Something Like Sound was, The Knew were preparing to get big. I ended up seeing the Knew 3 times at the Bluebird (and once at Hi-Dive), and they remain as one of my favorite Colorado acts. I recall seeing this particular shot floating around on their websites for quite some time.
Fellow Citizens – Skylark , October 8, 2010: I saw Fellow Citizens and Old Radio (now Amazing Twin) play two shows at the Skylark within one year. This photo of Fellow Citizens singer Eliza Boote was originally done in color and not cropped, however I edited it for print in the Oredigger newspaper. After looking at the two versions I decided that I liked the black-and-white more- it has a certain aesthetic that is reflective of that time and place.
Andrew W.K. – Warped Tour 2010 (Chicago): I had been to several years of Warped Tours before I decided to live in Chicago last summer, however none of that could prepare me for Andrew W.K. Perhaps one of the most energetic and bizzare performances I’ve ever seen, W.K. thrashed about the stage while putting himself into the most intriguing positions.
Safe Boating Is No Accident – Denver Does Denver 2010: The first show I saw after coming back from Chicago was Denver Does Denver (a fitting return, if I can say so myself). Safe Boating did a set of Pee Pee covers in the Flobots.org community space and something about the lighting in that room lent itself to some really dramatic shots.
Night of Joy – Denver Does Denver 2010: Sometime great photos are purely dumb luck. Another shot for DDD2010, I managed to catch the flash from a camera across the room at the often low-lit Meadowlark. The result: A photo that captures the face-melting nature of a Night of Joy set.
Sufjan Stevens – The Paramount, November 2, 2010: I bought my tickets for Sufjan nearly 4 months before he came to Denver. Fortunately I snagged some primo seats and was able to snap a few shots with my point-and-click. This photo was taken during a reworked rendition of “Seven Swans” which literally took my breath away.
FLASHLIGHTS – Split Cassette release at Larimer Lounge, February 23, 2011: FLASHLIGHTS usually like to party with the house lights down and their special Rande Kamolz-controlled rig in full operation. This, however, makes getting a decent shot of the group a challenge. I decided to experiment with long shutter speeds and zooming out while taking this photo.
As the lights dimmed at the historic Paramount Theater, my heart skipped a beat. Out of the darkness Sufjan Stevens and his band took the stage as projections of stars began to move and dance across the giant screen set on the back of the performance area. Quietly plucking a banjo, Stevens started into “Seven Swans,” a song about celestial visions and extra-ordinary occurrences. Upon reaching the first bridge, the entire stage erupted in a massive wave of sound and color. “Seven Swans” was a folk song no more- it had become a means of intensely declaring the beginning of the show and the end of times.
The re-worked rendition of “Seven Swans” stood as a harbinger of things to come. Shifting quickly into several cuts from his newest record The Age of Adz, the backing imagery changed and mesmerized, culminating in a Royal Robertson-inspired display of images from the end of the world. Remarking on the paradox between self-preservation and the urge to dive into “the universe” (or, as he put it, “Whatever psychobabble you prefer”) Stevens & Co. drove straight in to a fiery rendition of “Vesuvius.”
During several instances throughout the evening, Stevens talked at length about the tension between his old art-forms and what he described as a “sonic-journey.” Explaining how he found camaraderie in the outsider artist Robertson, Stevens proceeded to walk through his personal descent into experimentalism, the process of art as a form of human development and the mistake of confusing heartache with the end of the world.
The entire night had been pulsing and moving toward a grand finale. The epic 35-minute rendition of “Impossible Soul” was truly a remarkable piece of performance art. Ebbing and flowing from one movement to the next, this one song managed to conjure feelings of intense exuberance and melancholy. Things got a little strange, and other-worldly as transitions occurred. Perhaps one of the more entertaining bits came toward the end, when Stevens put on a Michael Jackson-inspired glove, Kanye West-inspired shutter shades, a monkey mask, and began using autotuned and vocoded microphones.
Following “Impossible Soul,” Stevens played his most famous song- “Chicago.” Similar to the reworked version of “Seven Swans,” the new version of his single was brought to a new life, perhaps surpassing the original form. Following a brief break, Stevens returned to the stage (sans his band) to perform a few soft, acoustic songs (“Concerning the UFO…” “To Be Alone With You,” and “John Wanyne Gacy Jr.”)
In retrospect, this may have been one of the best concerts I have ever attended. Once the music started every other thing on my mind vanished and I was absorbed into the sound and sight of it all. The feeling of pure musical ecstasy is something I have felt before, but it had been months since I witnessed such a display of raw talent and emotion. Furthermore, I now have a greater appreciation for the new artistic directions Stevens has decided to pursue. The Age of Adz is truly one of those records that lends itself to a grandiose showing in a live environment.
Click for more photos.
The last few songs of the night were some of the best. During “Impossible Soul” an extended dance-break involving a Michael Jackson glove and a monkey mask happened. “Chicago” sprang to new life as the last song in the normal set. For the encore Sufjan played only a few soft acoustic songs including “John Wayne Gacy Jr.”
John Wayne Gacy Jr.
Heirloom (shot by Tim)
Last night Sufjan Stevens made a return to Denver after not visiting the city for a little over 5 years. His performance was incredible (full review coming soon), and I was able to capture a couple songs on video. While I get the proper review prepared enjoy a hauntingly beautiful rendition of “Enchanting Ghost.”
Sufjan Stevens is a musician on the move. For the last ten years he’s been in a constant state of re-invention and experimentation. While most people are familiar with a handful of his songs and, perhaps, his 2005 full-length Come On Feel The Illinoise!- a musical journey through the Land of Lincoln- Stevens’ newest work, The Age of Adz, is difficult to simply lump in to his previous catalog.
To begin on Adz, it is important to note the thematic elements at play. While previous works focused on states (Illinoise and Michigan), religious experience (Seven Swans), Zodiac signs (Enjoy Your Rabbit), or roadways (The BQE), The Age of Adz is about the coming apocalypse. Each song is a unique foray into self-reflection driven by the power of love and the brokenness of an unforgiving world. A certain strain of melancholy threads its way through songs as Stevens attempts to harmonize harsh-realization with the desire to find peace, rest, and wellness.
Musically, The Age of Adz stands as a culmination of sorts. For the first time Stevens has combined orchestral elements with electronic features, two often-opposed styles that have been previously explored in their own regards by Stevens. Fans of his folk records may be disappointed in the marked lack of banjo and traditional folk styling, however, the quality of the songs is certainly not diminished by the new musical techniques. Perhaps the most notable musical feature of The Age of Adz is its use of dynamics. On several songs (including my personal favorite “I Want To Be Well”) nearly everything except for hushed vocals are stripped away and built up to moving crescendos.
If the listener can get past the initial shock of the new sounds, a collection of amazing songs awaits. Highlights include “I Walked,” “Too Much,” “Vesuvius” and “I Want To Be Well.” Album closer “Impossible Soul” is a song of epic proportions; clocking in at over 25 minutes, it could very well stand on its own (listening through the entire thing, while a marathon, is well worth the experience).
The Age of Adz is currently streaming in its entirety on NPR’s website (until its release date, October 12). For more on Sufjan Stevens visit his BandCamp site (where you can listen to his entire catalog and download the tracks “I Walked” and “Too Much”).
Update: The Age of Adz comes out today! (10/12) and we now have a full album stream below!
It’s no secret that one of my all-time-favorite musicians is Sufjan Stevens. With the exception of a few tracks and an orchestral album about the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway there hasn’t been much new Sufjan in the vein of his previous traditional indie-folk-pop records recently. That changed this last week with the release of All Delighted People, an EP that feels more like a full-length album.
Kicking off the EP is the orchestral original version of the title track, an 11+ minute track that showcases the musical developments Stevens has made since 2005′s Come On Feel The Illinoise! Each track unfolds to reveal a few familiar features (plenty of banjo, warm piano, plenty of horns and strings, etc.) in addition to markedly more experimental undertones.
News of this release came on the heels of details/ticketing for a Fall 2010 tour (tickets for the Nov. 2 Denver date may still be available). Currently this release is available through Bandcamp and will likely see physical (CD & LP) releases in late 2010. Stream the whole thing below.
I once worked retail. Anyone who has done likewise (or who has simply spent a lot of time in shopping malls any time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s) knows the terror that is overplayed Christmas music. Fear not! There are alternatives for people who want some holiday cheer without consuming the thick-sugary-syrup that seeps out of shopping-mall stereos.
Sufjan Stevens: Songs For Christmas (Volumes I-V): For several years Stevens has been quietly recording and releasing Christmas EPs full of traditional and original songs. His recordings of songs such as “Lo How A Rose e’re Blooming” and “O Holy Night” remind the listener about the classic hymns that have all but gone by the wayside. However, Stevens’s original works are the real highlights of this box set (which comes with stickers and goodies). “Sister Winter” and “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!” hearken back to the soft sounds of his Michigan record, while “Get Behind Me, Santa!” and “Christmas in July” are slightly more joyful.
While this box-set came out a couple years back, Stevens hasn’t quit making these holiday records. Last year Songs For Christmas Volume VIII: Astral Inter Planet Space Captain Christmas Infinity Voyage leaked. While this EP has more experimental sounds (in the vein of Enjoy Your Rabbit), it also contains what may be my favorite Christmas song of all time, “Christmas In The Room.”
MxPx: Punk Rawk Christmas: The “Left-Coast Punks” of MxPx have been releasing a new Christmas track every year for about the last decade. This year they finally decided to put them all together into a full-length record. This may be one of the few places you get a holiday song about zombies (as heard on “Christmas Night of the Living Dead”).
Julian Koster: The Singing Saw At Christmastime: Julian Koster may be one of the few musicians capable of cutting down a Christmas tree with his instrument. The former Neutral Milk Hotel singing saw player released his take on the standards last year. This may be one of the oddest records (Christmas or not) out there, but it certainly has a unique charm.
The BQE is a road, but it is also the subject of a 2007 music/film experiment from my all-time favorite singer/songwriter/modern composer Sufjan Stevens. Earlier this year it was announced that the BQE would find its way into our homes via DVDs and vinyl records. Today Asthmatic Kitty Records posted a clip from the film version called “Interlude I–Dream Sequence in Subi Circumnavigation” Enjoy.