Sentrum Scene, Oslo on 14th November 2006
Reviewed by Andreas on 15th November 2006
Sentrum Scene in Oslo is usually used to host things like musicals and "important" world music events where the social and political elite attend in order to spread awareness etc. You know the deal. As such it is strange to go there for a concert, but it turns out to be quite nice. I found a seat on a balcony, found a bar where I got overpriced venue beer and sat down in front of some middle aged women who were a bit too fond of Mr. Stevens.
"Playing the banjo keeps me humble and teaches me patience", Sufjan Stevens says whilst tuning the instrument for the fourth time. This is as close to the half-way mark of the concert as you can get. For about 35 minutes Stevens and the aptly named Magical Butterfly Brigade (they're all wearing huge plastic wings) simply delighted a packed venue with songs that have flight as their theme. Well, mostly flight.
Stevens has a way of bringing the audience into his mind with every song he sings, and every story he tells. The tale of a huge paper maché bird "thing or god" that Sufjan made and later worshipped, in a way, at summer camp one year is particularly memorable. Being a sullen child, he didn't want to "be outside in the sun and enjoy life" whilst at camp, but instead confined himself to the arts and crafts tent. In there he started the creation of this giant bird-like wasp figure that later became the centrepiece for camp kids' celebration. A huge bonfire was made, and the next day the statue was gone. Sufjan likes to think that it flew away, and dedicated "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!" to the icon. Summer camp, it seems, was a dangerous time for Sufjan Stevens.
Inflatable Superman dolls are thrown out during "The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts" and the ensemble onstage chant along, flapping their plastic wings and beating instruments. A nice touch, although the inflatable Santa things that later flew around the audience had a bit more wintery charm. "Charm" is an operative word when it comes to Sufjan Stevens and his concerts. Songs like "Jacksonville" and the anthem of escapism that is "Chicago" are played with such grace and joy that you cannot help but smile.
Despite all the songs about running away from bad things, wasps and even the Man of Steel (YEAH!), it's a quiet number about a serial killer that hits the hardest. "John Wayne Gacy, jr." is arguably the finest moment on Stevens' last "proper" album, the acclaimed "Come on! Feel the Illinoise!". There is something about the warmth of that song that is just undescribable, without it ever being an ode to a guy who killed an unknown number of young men.
All in all quite a glorious concert, with stories from the northern parts of the US put to a mix of orchestral folk and banjo/piano duets. The only thing that let me down was that "Come on! Feel the Illinoise" (the title track) was left out of the set, and in a greater sense, that's not really all that important.
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