How To Warm Your Hands On The Glow Of A Vulcano // Sufjan Stevens Live @ Berlin Admiralspalast (16/9/15, Concert Review)

2015-09-18 Sufjan TourcollageIn my recent album review of Sufjan Stevens‘ Carrie & Lowell, I compared psychological theories of grief and bereavement with Stevens artistic way of dealing with the loss of his mother on his latest record. Last night I had the chance to see how he translated his new material onto the stage at his first show of a sold-out two-day residency at Berlins noble Admiralspalast.

The stage of Sufjan and his 5-piece-band was backed by five oblonged projection screens that resembled very much cathedral windows, and after the heavy reverb piano intro of Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou), Sufjan, only lit by a single spot, began the evening with an achingly beautiful solo acoustic rendition of Death With Dignity, while the screens depicted private super-8 home videos from his childhood fooling around. You had to remind yourself that even though it was a piece of privacy exposed in the context of a performance, the scenes it showed were apparently real material, almost like a slide show at a family reunion. From this moment on, the audience was spellbound.


(c) Selective Artists

If the record seemed like a diary of grief, the show felt more like an experiment on how to convert these feelings and their energy into something new. Many of the new songs had been reworked and re-arranged. The Only Thing, after starting off as the delicate and reduced acoustic reflection as it is on the record, transformed via a sudden crescendo of tempo, drumbeats and lights directly pointed into the audience into something that almost felt like a resurrection. Fourth Of July became a disconnected sound-collage, wherein the reverb-heavy piano ballad got interrupted various times by synthie blots and splotches, before being pushed by the drum beat into an overwhelming finale.

Whereas the first section exclusively relied on the reworked Carrie & Lowell material, the second half of the main set connected old and new material by a stronger emphasis of choreography and light installation. All Of Me Wants All Of You, one of my favourites both live and on the record, had gotten rid of his acoustic guitar core and now grooved in sync to the pulsating symboles approximating to and withdrawing from each other on the screens around, dressed in wafting synth noises and an elaborated percussion, before turning into a an absolutely stunning and seducing 80s ambient disco monster with Sufjan playing an aggressively roaring synth solo. Mindblowing!

(Video by Olive Toulouse)

Along to Vesuvius, the light screens turned into a strange combination of vases that were steadily filling up by water drops threateningly dripping down, a boiling vulcano and a rocketship silhouette set to a night starry metropolis skyline. Sufjan performed the song with sort of sign language with his arms and fingers, appearing defenceless and still dignified, that I found extremely touching. I can’t exactly put the finger on the why, but the way he did this sign language somehow illustrated a breakdown of communication and the intention of reconnecting, but also the nagging and threating quality of the expressed doubts and desires of the songs’ lyrics. In the end, Sufjan concluded the song by changing between singing and playing a recorder (which was met with confusion and amusement by the audience) with the repeated line: Why does it have to be so hard? (This is not the only moment that, from a technical point of view, appeared a bit messy: Here and there the coordination between Sufjan and his background vocalist, or his use of his head voice sounded quite a bit off, and sometimes the mostly synthie keyboard foundations of the songs felt a bit thin in order to hold together the ornamentation of the other instruments).

The main set was concluded by a quite demanding and challenging 13 min impro space opera electro experimental journey through Blue Bucket of Gold, that was a final proof that at different moments, this show managed to evoke a diversity of emotions: sadness, melancholy, boredom, tiredness, sensory overload, amazement… Sufjan returned for the encore with his trademark baseball cap, starting to present a selection of older fan favourite songs. The short, beautiful piano solo version of Come On Feel The Illinoise-Opener Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinoise and the sweet banjo picking of For The Widows in Paradise, For The Fatherless in Ypsilanti were greeted with enthusiasm by the audience, who still seemed a bit stunned and shocked after how the main set had ended. Finally, something more familiar (and something easier to digest…).

(Video by PaperSnowflake)

Generally speaking, it was astonishing how Sufjan succeded to create an intimate vibe for his show; in spite of the scale of the production, the result still felt sincerely personal. Even though a relatively stable setlist sequence, a venue of >3000, an elaborated light show concept, elements of conceptual performance choreography, and an extensive tour that has been going on almost non-stop since the record’s release half a year ago, what he evoked still was more soul than show, more emotion than entertainment.

At the end of the show, he spoke shortly about how these songs are „obsessed with mortality“, and how he feels that the process of sharing them, expressing them, results into turnings these feelings into something new, something else, in an almost cathartic, spiritual way. The people in the audience could only agree, as this effect had been palpable for everyone in the room. So whether read as dealing with mortality, or with noticing the things that grow out of the ashes, and taking them to go on: in any way the final Chicago is right, when it states with its beautiful modest anthem-like sublimity: All things go, all things go.

You can find the setlist below, with some video examples for the new arrangements from earlier dates of this year’s tour. Prepare to be blown away.

Berlin, Admiralspalast (1st night) // Wednesday, September 16th, 2015
Support: Minda Tindle

Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou) (Wiltshire, End Of The Road Festival, 05/09/2015)
Death With Dignity (Wiltshire, End Of The Road Festival, 05/09/2015)
Should Have Known Better (Brighton, Dome, 04/09/2015)
Drawn To The Blood (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/2015)
Eugene (Cleveland, 16/04/2015)
John My Beloved (Manchester, Apollo 31/08/2015)
The Only Thing (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15)
Fourth Of July (Paris, Grand Rex 08/09/15)
No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross (Houston, Jones Hall f. t. Performing Arts, 11/5/15)
Carrie & Lowell (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15)
The Owl And The Tangar (Austin, Bass Concert Hall 05/2015)
All Of Me Wants All Of You (Paris, Grand Rex 08/09/15)
Vesuvius (Paris, Grand Rex 08/09/15)
Blue Bucket Of Gold (Columbus, Palace Theatre 17/04/15)
Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois (Dublin, The Helix 29/08/15 )
Heirloom (Dublin, The Helix, 29/08/15)
For The Widows in Paradise, For The Fatherless in Ypsilanti (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15)
Futile Devices (Manchester, Apollo 31/08/2015)
John Wayne Gacy, Jr. (Edinburgh, Playhouse 30/08/15 )
Chicago (Edinburgh, Playhouse, 30/08/2015)

Find some german reviews off the local press and some photos from the night here:


“you can’t wake a girl who pretends to sleep”

(you can find an english version of this blog post here).

En el marzo de este año me fui a ver un showcase de Gemma Hayes, una cantante singer/songwriter irlandesa. Ella presentaba su quinto disco Bones + Longing en un chiquito Jazz Bar. Sus canciones meticulosamente arregladas e instrumentadas combinan elementos de Indie Rock, guitarra acústica y un toque del ruído y la confusión de Shoegaze de los 80s con letras muy finas, melancólicas e intensas. Casi parece catarsis, como se saca sus observaciones de lo mas adentro de ella.

Las siguientes líneas de una canción que cantaba esta noche se pegaron en mi mente:

what do you burn, what do you keep?
you can’t wake a girl that pretends to sleep
over and over, cutting at scars
you need the darkness if you wanna see stars

i don’t know why i tell you these things…
(gemma hayes – ruin)

En la canción, una mujer se encuentra en un estado de choque, de enojo, y de estar asustada. El hecho de que se enamoró del destinatario le hizo salir de su mundo de adentro cúal se había instalado como un refugio para protejerse del exterior. Así que la línea de „no puedes despertar a una chava que simula a dormir“ es una queja y la expresión de un gran miedo – que le pasará ahorita a la mujer, ya que está sacada de su refugio, ya que está despierta?

Esta cita se volvió muy útil para mi. Muchas veces me encuentré desesperado o enojado con gente (en la vida profesionál como privada), cuando tenía la impresión que yo sabía como se les vaya mejor a la otra gente. Que nada más me tendrían que hacer caso! Y! A! Fuerza! No! Me! Querían! Entender! Aunque yo tambien ya me he encontrado en situaciones en las que me había dado cuenta que lo que pensaba / hacía / decidía no era ventajoso para mí y no había cambiado nada, la comparación no me sirvió (como ya sabemos, si se trata de sí mismo, siempre es otro pedo… (-: ). A veces a fuerza queremos quedarnos dormidos.

gemma_ruinEn estos momentos, la frase you can’t wake a girl who pretends to sleep me enseñó acceptar, que no soy yo el que tenga el poder de cambiar, ni siquiera influir a otras personas (que, de hecho, es una idea de omnipotencia y narcissismo…), sino que el efecto que yo puedo hacer – tiene limites. Al final de las cuentas, personas siempre tomarán sus propias decisiones. Y no puedo hacer nada.

Y en este momento, me quedé con la pregunta, porque a mí me costaba más acceptarlo comparado a que les costó a las otras personas seguir con su (supuestamente) mal comportamiento. Ahora – ¿quién era la persona que estaba dormida? No lo era mucho más yo? Dormido en el refugio que tenía razón, que sabía mejor – aunque tal vez aún no habia entendido las razones (emocionales) y la motivación profunda de la otra persona por su comportamiento? Aunque tal vez aun no habia entendido la dimensión de mi dependencia de quedarme en el papel de „el que tiene razon / el que sabe como ayudar“, y por eso había olvidado realmente escuchar?

Quedarse dormido a veces nos protege de un entendimiento para lo cual tal vez aún no estamos listos. Dice el psícoanalísta austriaco Alfred Adler: „El sueño tiene la intención de engañar al soñador. (…) Si alguíen se quiere engañar a sí mismo en la vida despierta, usa los mismos medios.

Y despertar si puede asustar y causar muchísimo miedo. La frase I don’t know why i tell you these things ya indica que, aún asustada por su propio coraje, ella ya intenta un paso adelante a abrirse al mundo de afuera. You need the darkness if you wanna see stars.

Está bien que tenemos mechánismos de defensa que nos protegen de ideas que aún no aguantamos. Pero si te enojas con otra gente, podría ser útil preguntarse: Quien es la persona que tiene el problema? // Y ademas: Gemma Hayes compone música increíble con letras profundísimas.

Adler, Alfred (1931). Individualpsychologie und Psychoanalyse. In G. Eife (Ed.), Alfred Adler. Persönlichkeitstheorie, Psychopathologie, Psychotherapie (1913-1937) (p. 482-497). Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht GmbH.
Hayes, Gemma (2012). Ruin. On Let It Break [Music Disc]. London: Fullfill LLC UK Ltd & Santa Monica, California: Universal Musc Operations.

Ryan Adams & The Shining // Hamburg, Docks // July 1st, 2015

It was my fifth time seeing him (Berlin Kesselhaus ’06 // Berlin Arena Treptow ’07 // London Shepherd’s Bush Empire 2 nights in Sept ’14), so I am familiar with his ways of performing. But still, with this gig I was really amazed / surprised. And I don’t have the slightest clue what it was – was he angry? Enthusiastic? More prepared / more warmed up with the band?

ryan_gsgAnyway – I never have seen him as energetic, as rocking, as impulsive, intense as yesterday night. Not from his appearance / audience talk, but in his playing! So much playful stuff, so many little licks and soli all over the place where they only could fit into a song – taming his guitar, that was between singing and howling, sprawling improvisation… just amazing. Very vital.

And yes, that backbending thing seems to become his signature move. Really great.

ryan_feelslikefireI was really happy with the setlist, too. TWO songs from the 7″ series. Burn In The Night – not sure, whether it was its live premiere, i think it was played before – he introduced it as a new song and that therefore they would fuck it up – which they didn’t. And Blue Light – it is just so hauntingly beautiful, and the guitar playing on that one and its general vibe are so TheSmiths-like… And with Feels Like Fire – I was over the moon. I had heard it from outside the venue being soundchecked, but tried not to get my hopes up too high. And it was flawless.

Except for Oh My Sweet Carolina, Come Pick Me Up and the encore no acoustic guitar. And the encore was pretty spontaneous – the roadies already had begun to clear the stage, the lights had been lit and the music had started, when he returned for a very sweet and calm version of New York, New York.

He’s still not fond of requests though. At one point he responded to a request: You know what? Every time somebody requests a song that is already on the setlist – I strike that song out. 😉 Actually, we do know how to play that song, but you really don’t want to hear that… I think he was referring to NYNY, which he actually did play later on.


Wow. What a ride. Stay Weird.
Amazing night.

Gimme Something Good
Let It Ride
Stay With Me
Dirty Rain
Burn In The Night (first time ever played live?)
Dear Chicago
This House Is Not For Sale
Peaceful Valley (+ extended jam)
To Be Young (Is To Be Sad, Is To Be High)
When The Stars Go Blue
Shakedown On 9th Street
Feels Like Fire (first time ever played live)
Oh My Sweet Carolina
Blue Light
Nobody Girl
Come Pick Me Up
Magnolia Mountain (+ extended jam)
New York, New York (solo acoustic)

#StayWeird. #StayRyan. #GreatJobRyan. #GreatJobCharlie #BestGigOfTheYear

*all pictures used with kind permission of Babycakees_. Also check out their website Indie.Vidualist.