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.

SufjanStevens_Carrie&Lowell_Admat11x17

(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.

SUFJAN STEVENS
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)
—Encore—
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:

The Resurrection of Berlin’s Lenin – well, his head.

Today, the head of the former Lenin monument placed in Berlin during the times of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) got unearthed in order to be presented in an exhibition of historic monuments in the west of Berlin.

(c) Ruptly TV

The head was just the upper part of a much larger monument of Lenin originally located at Lenin Plaza, now called Platz der Vereinten Nationen (Plaza of the United Nations), in Berlins district Friedrichshain. In 1991, the first Mayor of the reunited Berlin organized the disassembly of the statue, and the head with its over 3 tons of weight was buried in a forest in the outskirts of Berlin.

There has been a great deal of controversy over this step, as some people consider the era of the GDR as such a dark chapter of german history that they prefer to have every memory of it erased, in order to prevent nostalgic political feelings. Another group of people already critizised the original idea of disassembling the statue back in 1991 and consider it as a integral part of german history that should be remembered and discussed.

For some time, an official argument against unearthing the head was that city representants stated that nobody had any idea where the head exactly was located. This argument was refuted, when US-American film maker Rick Minnich joined the conversation. Minnich had recorded a satirical movie and, as part of its plot, not only had investigated the exact position, but even presented a scene where he himself uncovered parts of Lenins head.

(c) Rick Minnich

The last obstacle in the way was the finding, that a certain species of endangered lizards by now had populated the head, so that during every action taken, the protection of the lizards had to be warranted.

After all, the head did get unearthed today and by midday, it was presented at the location of its future exhibition at Citadel Spandau.

(c) Ruptly TV

Sources

Dota – Grenzen (a german song about borders and refugees)

2015-09-10 refugeeswelcomeDota Kerr is a singer-songwriter from Berlin of especially local popularity. She has been making her mixture of intimate acoustic guitar music with poetic everyday life observations revolving around big city life, lover’s grief, cultural and political themes with her trademark witty, intelligent wordplays. Formerly known as Kleingeldprinzessin (princess of small change) and gaining a loyal fanbase by busking, she also integrates elements of Bossa Nova and brasilian traditional music into her music

Dota is going to release a new record on January 15th of next year, and even though it is not yet ready for a proper promo cycle to begin, she released a video of a song of this record that deals with the concept of borders, in order to publish a statement about the current situation of refugees in Germany.

Check out the song in the video and a translation of some lyrics excerpts below. FInd the official german lyrics on Dotas Official Facebook Profile.

(Again we have the problem of translation. The main point of the song is that the german word for borders might stand for borders as well as for „limits“, so every time Dota sings „es gibt Grenzen“ she implies that everything mentioned before is caused by the existence of borders, but also that the circumstances already have crossed the line of the tolerable.)

Who is inside, who is outside?
I draw a line. You must not pass.
Air meets Air here
Ground meets ground
Skin meets the bullet.

There is frontex and push-backs
Fences, weapons, refugee defense conferences
Themediterrean sea becomes a mass grave
There are borders / limits

They lead to nationalism with its nutty consequences
You disfranchise people just because they came from somewhere
There are borders / limits (…)

I sign off, hand me a passport,
that states: „World inhabitant“
Just „world inhabitant“.
Please tell me where to go to for this
I sign off, I re-register
It can’t be so difficult
Just sign me up as world inhabitant.

How stable are the columns of the Brandenburg Gate? (A metro story from Berlin)

If you have ever used the subway (or locally so-called U-Bahn) in Berlin, you might have noticed how the window panes of some waggons are covered with a transparent lamination that features little reproductions of the Brandenburg Gate, arguably the most important tourist s2015-09-04 bbt_metro1ight-seeing spot in Germanys capital. These laminations were glued to the windows in order to prevent scratchings and demolition of the glass below.

Now, as the taz reports, one of the commuters must have taken an attentive look at these little gates, because he/she figured out that the second column from the left of the Gate is drawn perspecitvely wrong. It appears that this column isn’t straight, but is twisted before touching the ground. Furthermore, the lengths of the columns differs so that a close watcher has to worry about the stability of this little thingy. A couple of two graphic designers was so annoyed by this that they started to design their own drawing of the tourist magnet, this time perspectively accurate.

When they actually offered their drawing to Berliner Verkehrsverbund (BVG, Berlin Transport Company), they were rejected as the BVG had already instructed their designer to produce an improved version. According to them, they were just using up a few left-over copies of the old laminationand that since April / May of this year, the new design would be used now. So I’ll have to watch closely to discover the difference, then…

2015-09-04 bbt_metro2ganzkl

…probably a very german discussion.

You can check out the two designs in the original article of the german taz here.

Public Spaces Project in famous streetwalker district in Berlin

plakat_1000Announcement of an exhibition of landscape architecture students presenting thoughts and drafts on coexistence of sex workers and their neighborhood in Kurfürstenstrasse, Schöneberg (a famous streetwalker district in Berlin). In collaboration with a nearby church who regularily support the local streetwalker scene. Sounds interesting.

Damn! How could I miss this?

Anyway, check their website and some of the students’ proposals here: http://cargocollective.com/unterdemstrich/