Sufjan Stevens lays bare his soul, values and phobias to his audience. Tonight he looks like a luminous motocross rider strumming a banjo. The image is deliberate – it’s a homage to schizophrenic artist and self-proclaimed prophet Royal Robertson – and the audience is wondering what is happening.
This is an interesting show with poignant ruminations and stellar projections but musically it’s disappointing. If Paul Simon made a progressive-rock concept album with a bunch of ex-glam rockers from Wizzard or Roxy Music it would reverberate like this evening’s sonic assault. Alas there is no Roy Wood or Brian Eno to brilliantly craft this sprawling experimentation with electronic folk-rock into something melodic. Instead, there’s a cacophony of sound, devoid of space for Stevens to deliver his usual brand of urbane elegance. With the majority of the songs coming from “The Age of Adz,” fans expecting to hear familiar indie-folk favourites are short-changed but there are one or two old classics. Seven Swans in particular is performed extremely well.
There are certainly some intriguing ideas in the new material. However, in the main these avant-garde experiments don’t reveal any great discovery. The songs are too bloated with horns, dual percussionists and a variety of other instruments all blaring out and often at odds with one another. During this time the ears often close and the eyes are draw to the two female dancers and the beguiling visuals projected in front of and behind the stage. Then like magic it somehow clicks together and images and sound work marvellously on songs like Vesuvius but it’s short-lived and the performance slides into an enigmatic sound tirade once more. “Boy! We made such a mess together,” Stevens sings and he’s right. “The music isn’t cohesive” he informs anyone who hasn’t already noticed. But he fails to say that it’s also incoherent. It’s patchy at best and the finest pieces aren’t particularly enjoyable. The show is like watching a ‘50s sci-fi B-movie with an updated score written by a first-year art student with a cochlea disorder.
Venue: Festival Theatre, Adelaide
Date/Time: 1 February 2011 @ 7.30pm
Tickets: Premium $65, Adult $60, GreenRoom $45, Groups (6+) $55
Bookings: BASS on 131 246 | www.bass.net.au
National Tour 2011
Sydney Festival, Sydney Opera House – 27-28 January
Tivoli Theatre, Brisbane – 30 January
State Theatre, Melbourne – 31 January
Regal Theatre, Perth – 3 February