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Wednesday, February 27 2016

Sufjan Stevens

Hamer Hall, Melbourne, Australia.

I am sad about Sufjan but I expect Sufjan knows that. Not because Sufjan knows me from a bar of soap but because Sufjan must know that a lot of people are sad about him, for a whole range of reasons.

Also sadness is something Sufjan knows very well. There are a number of things Sufjan doesn’t know, but we are not concerned with them now. What we are concerned with is how sweetly Sufjan can sing, and how sweetly he can play the piano and the mandolin and the banjo and that other square thing with strings - and how extraordinary the songs he used to write are.

How fortunate we were getting tickets the day before his concert in Row G, within spitting distance of the stage you’d think if you were a punk but we’re not punks anymore. Oh no. That is a long time ago.

I am early. I developed a serious back problem during the day and I am only just able to walk so I’ve been kindly dropped off at the door. I am waiting there for my friend, full of painkillers, watching people. It amazes me how clean everybody is and how nicely they are dressed. I play spot the Christians but this game is not as easy as it used to be. They used to wear an incredulous look and unfashionable trousers or strange unflattering floral dresses but these days Christians look just like normal people. The ones wearing the unflattering dresses are the hipsters from Brunswick the only difference being that they have tattoos and/or a nose ring. But sometimes the Christians hang out in big groups and you notice that there are many widely varying different ages and they are perhaps a little too happy.

The critics have told us that Sufjan’s new record Carrie and Lowell” is a return to form but I haven’t heard it yet. I am intimately familiar with only two records Sufjan made, (Come on Feel the) Illinois” and Greetings from Michigan” but that too now seems like a long time ago. I have listened to some of these songs, the sad ones, hundreds of times and I am still not tired of them. But then came The Age of Adz” which was Sufjan’s attempt to demonstrate that he is more than a dorky Christian boy who sings sweet sad songs. He is a Man. And he Knows how to make Noise. Problem is it’s a horrible noise and it goes on for a long time.

The new record apparently sees Sufjan return to his folk roots and contains songs about his mother who died of stomach cancer in 2012. The first third of the concert at the Hamer Hall consists of songs from that album. All but one of them leave me cold. He seems to be relying on tricks of the trade that worked well the first, second and third time but which fall short somehow.

The second third of the concert is a cacophony of unlistenable electronics and flashing lights and I am within a nit’s naff of abandoning ship. No one should be subjected to this. I watch my friend admiring the secondhand going round and round on her beautiful Mondaine watch and I know that she too is sad and bored. Why would you do this to your audience? Perhaps you hate them. Perhaps you hate yourself and your own sad songs. Perhaps you hate the audience because they love the songs you hate.

Sufjan and the band come on for a generous encore of some of the old songs, without bombastics, without light show, without electronics and it is simple and beautiful and sad - but we are already sad and for a different reason. We are sad because Sufjan is not Sujan any more. Sufjan wants to be a different Sufjan and that’s his prerogative - but we don’t want that Sufjan!

And now that we’ve got him, we are sad. Because it is too late.



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