This one goes out to the one I love…

Sufjan Stevens, Live in Manchester, May 19th 2011:

Sufjan covered R.E.M.’s The One I Love a few years ago (here’s one from Chicago in 2004) but it lay in his big briefcase of tunes unplayed for years.

But it made a welcome and surprise re-appearance at a show in Manchester the week before last, and then again a few days later in Essen, Germany and finally at his first Primavera show last Friday. But Manchester would be the one I’d have loved to be at as it also featured a beautiful acoustic rendering of the usually bombastic full-band slow-builder Sister which you can watch here. (And besides being in Manchester in the week before United won their 4th European Cup would have been cool too. Oh wait, what? They lost? Again?! Are you Messi-ng? D’oh).

The One I Love was R.E.M.’s first big hit and even though it’s such a simple melody and the lyrics are only really 6 lines long, it has still managed to inspire endless amounts of song-writers. Listen below if you’ve managed to forget how it sounds.

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
A simple prop to occupy my time
This one goes out to the one I love

Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)
Fire (she’s comin’ down on her own, now)

This one goes out to the one I love
This one goes out to the one I’ve left behind
Another prop has occupied my time
This one goes out to the one I love

So looking at all these videos, reading reviews and hearing friends’ reviews of shows of this European tour, and the Australian tour from earlier in the year, has made me a little bit jealous. Soof-yan seems to be confirming his status as the man.

I remember reading an NME review of Michigan thinking this 50 states project sounds gas. A while later I bought the album on mail-order from his Asthmatic Kitty label and loved it, and it was then followed a few months later with the Illinois release. I was officially smitten.

Throw in the wealth of extra material you could find online back then – unreleased Christmas EPs, earlier electronic experiements. I’ve only seen him twice but that’s really only due to geographical and financial considerations. Because if I was into superlatives I’d be inclined to describe my Sufjan experiences as…

AMAZING!

LIFE-DEFINING!!

TRANSCENDING!!!

SMASHING!!!!

The first show took place on November 1st 2006 in Dublin’s Olympia and we were front and centre in the pit in prime “creepy stalker” location. I’m unable to find an exact setlist anywhere online (I think there may have been a lot of crossover with the next night in Manchester?), but I know it opened with Sister, went through all the hits from Illinois and Michigan, threw in a few favourites from Seven Swans, gave us a taste of Christmas (in November) and managed to leave everyone wide-eyed and bushy-tailed at the end of the two hour show.

In retrospect, what was most interesting about the night was the hint of what may have been to come. This arrived in the shape of an epic rendition of a tune called Majestic Snowbird (listen to best quality live recording here), which it was believed would be a centre-piece on the third part of his 50 states project. The fact this unknown new song got the best reaction on the night is a testament to his power both as a performer and songwriter.

And we all took home inflatable supermen and santa-clauses and all was well with the world…

Sufjan Stevens plays Dublin's Olympia theatre - November 1st 2006. A small cock, Annie Clarke (St Vincent) and Bryce Dessner (The National) are in the backing band.

Sufjan Stevens plays Dublin's Olympia theatre, November 1st 2006. His wings have since gotten a lot bigger.

Wanted for inflatable theft. IRA links. Coded warning said they'd blown up the hostages.

Superman Fellatio. Santa just sits there and laughs.

But Majestic Snowbird never arrived on record, the 50 states project was abandoned (or Sufjan just stopped playing along) and instead the next 3 and a half years brought ongoing tours, illness, an autobahn-opera, a stereoscopic 3D View-Master reel and retirement talk. But out of nowhere 2010 brings a renewed creative spark, new EP, new album, new tour, new dancers and some new costumes.

The new releases and North American tour anouncement led dunnez and I to make a road-trip north to Montreal last October for the opening night of the new Age of Adz tour. While he was scheduled to play Toronto’s Massey Hall the following night, we figured it would be a good excuse to drive north-east and see the tour opener and see a little bit of French-Canadian culture too. The show at the Metropolis was his first in a year and no one had a clue what to expect. I figured we’d get a lot of new material with a few of the oldies breaking things up for good measure.

Instead Sufjan and his 11-piece band gave us two hours of the new tunes which we’d only been hearing for six weeks, including the first ever rendition of the now infamous Impossible Soul, the 25 minute “magnum opus” which closes out Age of Adz (yes I know a 10 minute verison was played in 2009, but pfft to 10minutes!).

And the set was rounded off on a familiar note. The final three songs were from the “greatest hits” briefcase. Put simply, the entire evening from start to finish was phenomenal.

Metropolis, Montreal, QC, Canada Setlist on October 12, 2010 [setlist.fm]

All Delighted People
Too Much
Age of Adz
Heirloom
I Walked
Now That I’m Older
Get Real Get Right
Enchanting Ghost
Vesuvius
Futile Devices
Impossible Soul
Chicago

- ENCORE -
Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

Chicago would ordinarily be cause for celebration, but after the 11 songs that had come before it, it almost felt superfluous and anti-climatic. The double knockout of Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois and John Wayne Gacy, Jr. finished things off.

Rapturous applause. Embarrassed acknowledgement from Sufjan. Everyone goes home happy.

All Delighted People Raise Your Hands...

Even when you're a synth superstar you still have to pick an acoustic guitar from time to time...

Sufjan Live (and pared down) in Montreal's Metropolis

'I walked.' Photoshop posterising used to mask dodgy photography. Shush. It's about the visuals.

Before seeing this show I was worried about how the, eh, “world” would come to accept the new direction that Sufjan was taking with the All Delighted People EP and to an ever greater extent, the Age of Adz album.

While those who’d been paying attention knew that we were never going to get a record with the same “high-school-band-baroque-pop” like Illinois - just consider his contribution to the Dark was the Night charity record, the Songs for Christmas Vol. 8 leaked release, blurry youtube videos from his short North American tour of 2009 and the interviews distancing himself from album formats and traditional song-structures – but early listens of the new material still had me a little worried that he may be about to go down a path of deliberately alienating fans while he explored the limits of song composition. But after being part of that Montreal crowd and amongst the first people to attend the new Sufjan Stevens live experience, I knew he was going to do just fine.

read more
Between hipsters and God there is Sufjan Stevens [fuckyeahsufjanstevens.tumblr.com]
Live: Sufjan Stevens – Dublin [nialler9]
Sufjan Stevens: Interview [pitchfork]
Sufjan talks Paul Simon, the existence of Heaven, and the glory of Auto-Tune [eyeweekly]
Sufjan Stevens: ‘I’ve always been insecure about what I do’ [The Guardian and Observer 2011 music season]
REVIEW: Sufjan Stevens, The Olympia, 17th May 2011 [not very wise luberachi blog]

(all photos by me except the header and this one just here… both from fuckyeahsufjanstevens.tumblr.com)

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