Monday, October 5th, 2009
All Delighted People
Sufjan Stevens and Cryptacize at Lee's Palace in Toronto
Frank YangIn a recent interview posted to the Asthamtic Kitty website in which Sufjan Stevens interviewed former bandmate and now labelmate Shannon Stephens, Stevens (note spelling) said, “I’m at a point where I no longer have a deep desire to share my music with anyone, having spent many years imparting my songs to the public”. A curious sentiment that might have seemed truthful a couple months ago, when he was still largely a recluse, choosing not to follow up his 2005 opus Illinois with anything resembling a conventional record, instead favouring multimedia projects and reissues. But you couldn’t say he wasn’t much for sharing with him midway through a short, surprise tour that saw him playing venues many times smaller than his patient and devoted fanbase could easily fill and playing a wealth of new material that wasn’t really ready what you’d call “finished”. Not that anyone in the beyond-sold out Lee’s Palace on Thursday night cared.
Support came from Los Angeles’ Cryptacize, whose second record Mythomania has found its way in and out of rotation over the Summer. Some of it I find beguiling, some of it boring, but it’s generally an interesting listen, like a stack of girl group, surf, Bossa Nova and prog-rock 7″s were left out on a beach in the California sun and melted together. Fronted by the classic and crystalline voice of Nedelle Torrisi, who would also cover keys and backing vocals in Stevens’ band, their set was generally enjoyable – they certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves – but probably ran a bit long for the anxious crowd, many of whom had been standing in line since late afternoon to get a prime vantage point for Stevens.
Stevens’ last two Toronto appearances in November 2004 and September 2005 were full and proper productions for Michigan/Seven Swans and Illinois respectively, complete with costumes and synchronized stage moves, so it was evident that this night was going to be something different when the band came out in regular casual street clothes and roadied their own gear, Stevens included, to the sound of much shrieking. And “casual” would be the key word for the night, followed closely by “beautiful”, “intimate” and, well, “sloppy”. The “beautiful” is a given for anyone who’s familiar with Stevens’ orchestral folk-pop compositions and the “intimate” aspect of the show has already been covered. As for the “sloppy”, well that’s not necessarily a criticism because if anyone can make missed cues and barely-remembered lyrics endearing, it’s Stevens. But even as far into the tour as they were, it was clear they were still feeling out the new material – mostly via extended jamming with Stevens taking the opportunity to show off his electric guitar chops – and getting reacquainted with the old.
As expected, the the nearly two-hour set drew from Stevens’ last four records – including Illinois outtakes collection The Avalanche – and four new songs. I’d originally thought there were five, but the one I thought the best of the bunch, the Simon & Garfunkel-quoting “All Delighted People”, actually dates back to 2000 though the version performed was almost unrecognizable against the original. By and large, the new material, which was described by Stevens as “long-form”, demonstrated that he has lost none of his flair for grandiose musical statements and is enjoying working without the constraints of a theme (or state) to write around. By no means did any of it feel ready – if it were released on an album in their present form, they’d probably be met largely with head-scratching – but as a teaser of where he’s going and what’s possibly to come, it was tantalizing. And the old material was, as stated, beautiful. I’d forgotten how stunning Stevens’ voice was live, so fragile yet powerful, and moments like “To Be Alone With You”, “Casimir Pulaski Day” and the still-chilling encore of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” were jaw-dropping if not quite audience-silencing. With no sign as to when a new record will be forthcoming, let alone when he’ll undertake another proper tour, this show would have to keep Stevens’ fans satisfied for possibly a long time. And as much as you can be satisfied while never wanting it to end, it delivered.
There’s further reviews of the show at Exclaim and Panic Manual. Cryptacize are heading back on tour next month with The Fiery Furnaces and will be at the El Mocambo on November 7. Sufjan Stevens’ film in tribute to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway – The BQE – will be screening for one night only at Innis Town Hall at the University of Toronto on October 25 at 7:30, tickets $10 in advance online or at Soundscapes. Stevens’ Run Rabbit Run is out tomorrow and the The BQE is out on October 20.
Photos: Sufjan Stevens, Cryptacize @ Lee’s Palace – October 1, 2009
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Movement VI—Isorhythmic Night Dance With Interchanges”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “The Henney Buggy Band”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “The Man Of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Casimir Pulaski Day”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Sister”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Holland”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Year Of The Dog”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Year Of The Tiger”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “Demetrius”
MP3: Sufjan Stevens – “A Winner Needs A Wand”
MP3: Cryptacize – “Blue Tears”
MP3: Cryptacize – “One Block Wonders”
MP3: Cryptacize – “Mini-Mythomania” (C Spencer Yeh remix)
MP3: Cryptacize – “Tail And Mane”
MP3: Cryptacize – “Cosmic Sing Along”
MP3: Cryptacize – “No Coins”
Video: Cryptacize – “Tail And Mane”
Video: Cryptacize – “Blue Tears”
Video: Cryptacize – “Cosmic Sing Along”
MySpace: Sufjan Stevens
Dog Day are releasing a super-limited, vinyl-only EP entitled Elder Schoolhouse, out in late October. No digital versions of the songs are planned, save for the MP3 and live video below, so if you want, get yourself a turntable. Dog Day play the Horseshoe on November 5.
Swedish electro-pop outfit Little Dragon have booked a North American tour in support of new record Machine Dreams, out domestically on October 20, and that includes a date at Wrongbar in Toronto on November 18.