Sunday, September 11th, 2005
Come On! Feel The Illinoise!
If America wants to improve US-Canada relations with the next generation of Canadians, they would do well to make Sufjan Stevens their new ambassador to the North. Judging from the rapturous response from the crowd at Trinty-St Paul’s last night to his Illinois travelogue, he’s the one man who could make a country of cynical twentysomething lefties love the red, white and blue the way he does.
Laura Veirs opened things up with a set that drew heavily on her excellent new Year Of Meteors, and definitely benefitted from the wonderful church acoustics. Reports that her four-piece band were now rockers were somewhat exaggerated, but the sound of the keyboards and taut, sinewy electric guitar work in the arched hall really added some atmosphere to the songs. At the core of it all, though, were Veirs’ meditative songs and reserved, confident voice. Something about the live setting gave the material slightly more edge or tension than the recorded versions, but it all sounded excellent either way. It’s a shame that more people hadn’t shown up early to catch her set – the floor was pretty full but the balconies were pretty sparse.
After being summoned out enthusiastic if somewhat impatient audience (are you allowed to stomp in church?) Sufjan Stevens started the show off with a gorgeous, solo acoustic performance of Seven Swans’ “To Be Alone With You” which sent the crowd into a frenzy, but that was nothing compared the the excitement when Stevens’ band bounded down through the aisles in their cheerleader/pep squad uniforms. The next hour was solid Illinois love, with songs from the album interspersed with brief history lessons about the place in question and accompanying coreographerd cheers. To the more jaded, it might have seemed overly precious or chintzy (I know because that’s the response I’ve seen on some message boards), but to the converted – and there was a church full of them here – it was sheer unbridled joy. Despite his almost paralyzingly shy boy demeanor, Stevens seemed to be loving every minute of the show and commented more than a few times about how nice it was to be performing in such a (presumably) different venue than normal. And the full grand piano at the side of stage was nice, too. You don’t see that too often. After the too-short main set, the band returned, sans costumes, for a couple more numbers including a beautiful closer in “All Of The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands”. Having two Seven Swans numbers to bookend the show was a nice touch.
If I was disappointed in any sense, it was from reading the reviews of Stevens’ recent five-night stand in New York where he trotted out all sorts of different costumes and tricks to keep things interesting. I guess we just got the standard tour version. And an hour twenty just didn’t seem long enough. Ah well. Photos turned out pretty well despite the forest of mic stands all over the stage. Bright costumes help, too! But truly a beauteous night of music. If I could only go to one show over two months (and I can), I’m glad it was this one.
So no Sunday Cleaning for the next couple weeks, nor will there be the usual reportage of music, movies or whatnot. The cruise ship I’ll be on is wifi-ed throughout and I’ll have my laptop with me, so I exepct to be blogging my trip. Daily? I dunno – the time zones are gonna mess with my head, but when I can. And I’ll even try to get pictures up as we go. And sorry if the Sufjan review reads a little rushed, ’cause it is. I have a plane to catch.
And we’re off.