Wednesday, November 17th, 2004

All the Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands

Last night: Sufjan Stevens, Nicolai Dunger and Awry at Lee’s Palace. Let’s begin.

Awry exists as both solo and group propositions, but is essentially just Shara Worden. Also a member of Sufjan Stevens’ band, she opened the evening alternating between electric guitar and electric piano for a set of tunes mixing cabaret songs with dirgey blues guitar and torchy/operatic vocals. The resultant music was pretty interesting stuff – if I can make some lazy comparisons, I was hearing bits of PJ Harvey, Tori Amos and Edith Piaf in there. I also caught one of the plastic spiders she threw out into the audience for reasons unclear. Overall, a little on the odd and quirky side, but I enjoyed it.

The same cannot be said for middle act Nicolai Dunger. I don’t know what coffee house in Stockholm they found this guy, but they should send him back. Looking and sounding like an accountant who likes to unwind with some guitar picking, he played a set of interminable acoustic blues featuring annoyingly smug, faux-soul vocal acrobatics. I never thought I’d discover a worse form of white man blues than the Blueshammer phenomenon, but I have. I swear, I cringed with fear when he came back onstage after his set but thankfully he was just retrieving his guitar. Harsh? Maybe, but it was pretty damn bad.

The headliners, however, totally compensated for that middle-set drag, and were overwhelmigly excellent. Sufjan Stevens and his Michigan Militia, as his band is called, started things off with their musical tour of the fifty States, though I don’t think they got out of the Midwest. Naturally, a lot of time was spent in Michigan – in fact, much of the set was comprised of paeans to Stevens’ home state. I can’t comment on specific songs or whatnot since I didn’t have any of the albums prior to the show and had only heard a couple mp3s off their website, but that wasn’t a prerequisite for enjoying the music. Having listened to Seven Swans a grand total of 2/3 times, I can understand the “folk” tag Stevens’ music often gets assigned, but after seeing the live show I think that ending the discussion there is doing them a great disservice. Where the recording is hushed, delicate and somewhat sombre, the live experience leans far more to the ebullient pop side of things. Everything was impeccably orchestrated and arranged with spot-on choral vocals and perfectly placed bits of trumpet, xylophone and percussion, and the addition of a fantastic drummer turned many numbers into musical celebrations. A real highlight was their moving and meditative take on “The Star Spangled Banner”, which put the American national anthem in a completely new light.

I think this was also the first show I’ve ever been to that featured costume changes – the band started off in the scout uniforms representing Greetings From Michigan and changed to the swan outfits of Seven Swans (at one point he apologized for mixing concepts) and then into matching band t-shirts (available for sale at the back!) for the encores. So cute. Top to bottom (excepting Mr Dunger), it was easily one of the prettiest nights of music I’ve had in some time. Excellent stuff, thanks to everyone who inisisted I go to this.

Getting pictures was a little tough on account of the jungle of music and microphone stands all over the stage – I only had semi-unobstructed views to Stevens and the xylophonist/backing vocalist, but that’s okay because he was the most important and she was the cutest. Still, I think I did alright.

As mentioned before, Mercury Rev will be releasing their new album The Secret Migration on January 25 in North America – but only on iTunes. The physical album won’t get a release on these shores until late April. It will be out in the rest of the world in January. Maybe if I find a way to sabotage the Canadian edition of iTunes, they’ll have no choice but to release the CD up here? Stupid stupid iTunes, and stupid stupid people who will view this sort of nonsense as ‘progress’ of some kind.

Google News is an amazing thing. I should really make more use of it when I’m looking for content… A search on “American Music Club” yielded the following – Maisonneuve nominating the band as the most anti-social outfit in existance (but in a purely adoring and respectful sense), The Chicago Tribune reviewing the Saturday show at which I was in attendance and The Orlando Sentinel talking to drummer Tim Mooney about the reunion.

Sign On San Diego finds out what a whirlwind 2004 has done to Nellie McKay (who insists she’s 20, for those keeping score). From Pop (All Love).

You can now pre-order the Pernice Brothers live DVD/CD set Nobody’s Watching set here. Estimated delivery date is second week of December. Put a little Pernice in your stocking for Christmas!

I’ve got the photos from my trip to Chicago up here. There’s a lot of zoo pictures. Don’t read anything into that. I just, y’know, like monkeys.

Man, would you look at how short my concert calendar is now? If that doesn’t pick up soon, I may never leave my apartment again.

np – Sufjan Stevens / Seven Swans

By : Frank Yang at 9:41 am
Category: Uncategorized
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  1. rooney says:

    He tells no lie, Nikolai was an atrocity. I couldn’t believe people were clapping. There was no need to encourage this guy.

    Sufjan and company were phenomenal though. The version of Upper Peninsula was awesome and saving Ypsilanti for the second encore was a nice touch.

    great pics of the show. luckily they switched up lighting. I think that was the first show I saw at lee’s where it wasn’t exclusively red flood lights.

  2. shaunanana says:

    haha, you perv! you totally took more pics of ms. xylophone than that.

  3. Frank says:

    shush. a lot of em didn’t come out that well. And I have more of Sufjan too. But don’t read anything into that…

  4. Anne says:

    As for the Pernice Brothers cd/dvd, I saw one of the shows that was taped and it was excellent. So even if your concert calendar is empty, you can sit at home at watch this over and over!

  5. Rachel says:

    Uh, I just put comments on some of the animal pictures. Is there anyway to take them back? I am such a geek. Good pictures, Frank.

  6. mike says:

    Wish I was at the Sufjan show yesterday, but went to see The Incredibles with a friend instead…but no big deal, cause The Incredibles was great fun and I’ve more than shattered my concerts attended record within the span of two weeks, with all the shows I’ve been to lately…glad you had a good time…and man, you had some beautiful clear weather in Chicago as I could see from some of your photos…I’m so jealous! :-)

  7. Brian says:


    Found your site while searching for more info on Sufjan Stevens’ cover of the "Star Spangled Banner". I was also at the Lee’s Palace show, and what a beautiful version of that song. I was almost moved to tears. Also, the xylophone player was absolutely gorgeous and charming. so thanks for the pictures…