Sufjan Stevens @ The Tivoli, 30.01.2011

I think out of all the new artists I heard in the last decade, Sufjan Stevens has turned out to be my favourite.  Ever since I first bought Seven Swans, completely old school, purely on the basis on a couple of reviews and without having heard a note of his music (something I still regularly do), I’ve been completely captivated.  I’m pretty sure I bought it from the old Rough Trade shop in Neal’s Yard, but if not then it would have been Selectadisc on Berwick Street and can remember the first time I played it: It was when I was staying at my sister’s place in Clapham not too long before I headed out to Australia for the year, which must place it around March/April 2004, and my first impression was that there was a lot of banjo.  Despite the fame and acclaim that came with Illinois, the subsequent rediscovery of Michigan, and the most recent Age Of Adz album, Seven Swans remains my favourite of all his albums; it has a starkness but a delicateness about it, a real warmth in the songs and the music and it didn’t take me long to get over my initial banjo reservations.

Not long after I left London for Sydney I saw he was playing Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush and was both annoyed and saddened at not being able to see him play live; Bush Hall is a lovely space, I guess the closest venue to it in Brisbane might be something like the small room at the Old Museum.  I finally got to see him play, almost four years later, when he played at The Tivoli in Brisbane in early 2008, around the time he had written (but not yet released) The BQE, a piece he was commissioned to write and perform to celebrate the Brooklyn-Queensland Expressway.  I still haven’t gotten around to buying The BQE; I always baulk at the $35 that it’s on sale for in Australia but one of these days I will just have to get over it.  Or alternately just remember to include it in my next Amazon bulk buy-in.  At the show he performed parts of The BQE piece and hula-hooped along to the music; hula hooping about engineering trumps dancing about architecture any day of the week.

I didn’t get to photograph the 2008 show, but come January 2011 I finally got the chance.  There was a slight element of luck about it; the show had sold out whilst I was overseas and I was relying on being approved to photograph it to be able to get in.  However, the email confirmation of my media pass came with a note that I wasn’t allowed to stay to watch the show and would be escorted out of the venue after the first three songs.  This meant I was forced to head to eBay to look at buying a ticket from a tout.  In the end I got a ticket a couple of days before the show from a Melbourne-based tout for cost price; at one point he was advertising 10 tickets and trying to sell them for more than $100 above the advertised price but obviously needed to shift his remaining tickets before the show.  Sometimes I think I should just give up the day job and move into some serious ticket touting.

I get to the venue no one knows anything as no media list had been sent through.  Luckily I had my confirmation email printed out and in my bag so it was all sorted fairly easily.   Of course with all the media list kerfuffle no one come to turf me out of the building after three songs and so I end up paying $75 for a ticket I don’t need and by that time it’s too late to sell it or give it away.

I’m stood on the step the side of the stage watching the support act (Boy & Bear’s Tim Hart) when the Head Security comes over to tell me that there’s no pit access for the show tonight and he adds that they didn’t initially even want a pit and a barricade and had to be told that they would be having one.  Looking at the photos from the Sydney and Melbourne shows it’s clear that pit access wasn’t an issue for the photographers in those cities.  Being stood on the step I decide that it’s the best position to shoot from, given the lack of pit access and that there appears to be too much in the way of microphone stands and other paraphernalia (i.e. a drum kit)  to consider moving across to the other side of the stage and photographing from near the stairs.  In the end it was a good decision to have staked my claim of the step as it gives a good, if mostly side-on, view of Sufjan Stevens, although not of his band.   The lighting at the start has me worried, being a mix of red and UV-like lighting to show off the fluoro outfits and accessories the band are wearing, but there is some good lighting in there was well and I get a few photos from the night that I really like, albeit from only one angle.

One of the disadvantages of photographing well-attended or sold out shows at The Tivoli is that by the time you’ve finished photographing, it’s way too late to try and push into the crowd to get a good view and you always end up on the peripheries of the crowd, at the sides or towards the back.   Unfortunately I end up near the back and far too close to a couple of annoying dicks, who talk constantly.  What’s even more galling is that they know how annoying they’re being, with Dick 1 commenting to Dick 2 as to whether they’ll be beaten up or thrown out first.  Not that this stops them talking loudly and so after a few minutes I decide I can’t stand it anymore and move over to the other side of the room.  It’s at times like these when you really wish The Tivoli had a much louder sound system.

The set draws almost exclusively from the Age of Adz album and All Delighted People EP, and the 25 minute show-stealer, Impossible Soul makes it a very early contender for Gig Of The Year, even though nothing is played from Seven Swans and Illinois is only represented by a couple of songs in the encore.  Amazingly, given just how good tonight is, its front-running doesn’t even last until the end of the week, thanks to Les Savy Fav’s set at Laneway being one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.

But regardless, I’m already looking forward to wherever Sufjan Stevens decides to go next in his musical journey, and hoping for another chance to photograph him when he comes back to play Brisbane, preferably from the photo pit next time.

One Response to “Sufjan Stevens @ The Tivoli, 30.01.2011”

  1. I used to enjoy taking photos at gigs, and my trick for getting good shots at small venues (the ones without barricades) was to take a cheap disposable camera.

    I’d climb up on the stage with the stage divers, take a couple of rapid-fire shots, throw the camera to my friend in the front row and then dive off into the crowd.

    The only time it failed was when the crowd parted like the Red Sea and I landed hard on the floor. Oh well, eh?

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