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Sufjan Stevens’ concert in Milan: A celebration of life, here and now

Sufjan Stevens, already mentioned on sussidiario.net at the release of his album Carrie and Lowell, played at Teatro della Luna in Milan as part of his European tour dedicated to his latest work on September 21. During the concert, the artist presented his album “Carrie and Lowell” in its entirety. Eleven songs that relate to the history of his family and especially of his mother’s. She died in 2012; the artist had a troubled relationship with her because of her problems related to drugs and her bipolar disorder.

The theme is certainly not trivial: his last album is in fact a sequence of bare and essential songs that deserve to be listened to carefully from beginning to end. Sufjan Stevens is certainly a controversial character, in a continuous research. Christian, but without a definite place of reference, he has both physically and musically wandered among the various traditions of the States, restlessly taking part to their various music festivals. Musician as much culturally equipped as limited in his vocal range, in his Milan concert he showed how far his approach is from the one of the vocal talents that aim at conquering the public’s interest in a matter of seconds. As his trembling voice opened the first verse of the evening, through his vocal limitation he unintentionally expressed something that goes beyond music.

 

A palpable tension could be felt throughout the entire concert, starting with the introduction, when he played the delicate instrumental Redford from his album Michigan. James McAlister, Ben Lanz, Casey Foubert, and Dawn Landes were on the stage with him. The atmosphere became solemn. The album’s execution run tirelessly and without interruptions, with songs that blended into each other, played as flawlessly as wholeheartedly. At times the poetics is close to Nick Drake’s (I am thinking of a few  passages from the album Pink Moon in particular). “I forgive you mother but I long to be near you,” he sings in the second song Death with Dignity, while in Blue Bucket of Gold, the last song of the first part of the concert, a long instrumental piece serves as tail, taking us into a suspended and dreamy place.

 

Sufjan declares in an interview: “I didn’t know (my mother) well in a lot of ways, and I didn’t know how to say goodbye on the last track with articulation. So I quit playing piano and vocals and just stopped. I wanted to surrender her to the beyond with noises that sound bigger than just me.” In a sense, this feeling of surrender was evident for both the audience and musicians. When a musician has a story to tell, he is forced to take a step back and remain in the shadow both physically and musically, so that the the song itself has the opportunity to emerge. At the end of this first part of the concert, Sufjan declares: “Sorry for only playing sad songs tonight. I must say that for me bringing these sad songs in concert and sharing them with the public night after night has been a positive process. Tonight we are here to celebrate life and what is here, now: our hearts beating.”

After a brief pause, he returns on the stage, this time to perform five songs he had recorded in the past. It seems that these songs are not put together in an artificial manner to form an encore: they are rather just another aspect of his story.

I take home two lessons from this shy musician. The first is that it is possible to overrun  genres. One can use very different elements of the recent musical history and make them coexist in a harmonious beauty, as it happened tonight, also thanks to the band that supported the artist. The second, and more crucial, is that music can still be important, and not just a background noise or a playlist that one can keep scrolling. The drama of life, which emerges in some great songs, cannot be broadcasted on the radio or in talent shows. It needs a gentle, dedicated, and exclusive space, and it requires that one devotes attention to it. Like when one reads a poem, or when one says: “I love you”. You cannot do these things it in the midst of all the rest.
I am sure we will hear more about Sufjan, in who knows what kind of new musical adventure.

Domenica

Forse abbiamo finito le cose da dire. E ora l’evoluzione consiste solo nel trovare nuovi modi per dire le stesse cose. Oppure le nuove cose da dire sono solo i nuovi modi per fare le cose che facevamo prima.

Forse questo è un gran silenzio prima di una grande crisi o di una grande rivoluzione.

La rivoluzione non arriverà di certo da un corso che ti insegna come scrivere una canzone, da un concorso o da un social network su internet. E neanche dallo studiare il passato alla ricerca di qualcosa di dimenticato.

 

King Crimson – 6th November 2016 – Teatro degli Arcimboldi, Milan

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Q. Where does music come from?
A. Where was the world before it was made? Find that place and you will find Music. (Robert Fripp)

 An artistic discovery 
occurs each time as a new and unique image of the world, a 
hieroglyphic of absolute truth. It appears as a revelation, as a 
momentary, passionate wish to grasp intuitively and at a stroke all 
the laws of this world — its beauty and ugliness, its compassion and 
cruelty, its infinity and its limitations. The artist expresses these 
things by creating the image, sui generis detector of the absolute. 
Through the image is sustained an awareness of the infinite: the 
eternal within the finite, the spiritual within matter, the limitless 
given form. (Andrei Tarkovsky)
“We're all lonely for something we don't know we're lonely for. 
How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like 
missing somebody we've never even met?” (D.F. Wallace)

I don’t the place where music come from. Yet. I know it moves me to another place, closer to that somebody I have never met or at least to its reflection.

My purpose for this concert is not to listen (or to listen as little as possible) anything produced by the new line up. I want to arrive unprepared, so the music can again surprise me.

I have one thing in mind. Robert Fripp said in a video that no matter when a piece of music was composed you can always approach it like it is something new. And in fact music is something that takes place in a moment of time. It begins, it exist and it ends. It is what you can call an event.

I arrive early at the venue. I spot a few people outside and I met a couple of guys I know. They are true prog-heads. They consider King Crimson an institution and they know an awful lot about them. I discovered KC in 1995 when I was in high school. Thrak just came out back then and it was my personal version of grunge back then. Yes I listened also to Nirvana, but I found the same urgency in that album too… And then my favourite album was TKOL in 1999. I listened to that album until I lost it.

So I am not a veteran that’s for sure. I don’t own all the albums or any of the box set, but I think I have to be here tonight. While I am waiting for the beginning a couple of announcements explain when it is the right moment to take photos. The request is to live ‘in the moment’ and to be here with our minds, our ears and our eyes on what we have in front of us. I really thank for this. Even if the people around me gets annoyed a bit I think it is great to just concentrate on the ‘event’ and forget for an evening to take another useless bad photo or video.

When the musicians enters the stage I am projected back in time. I might as well be in the Habsburg empire, in a theatre in Vienna and an opera is starting. An alternate futuristic version of 19th century. They even tune up.

After the tuning up, the beginning is a massive rhythmic illusion relentlessly driven by Mastelotto, Stacey and Harrison aka the “front line”. I know that the party is going to be fun. And wild too.

I am almost completely strange to the first 7-8 tracks but there’s no issue here. I have a 20-something girl in front of me constantly head banging. Forget about labels and expectations, this is rock, but also something else. It is like in my alternate reality I am listening to chamber music but with the ears in 21st century (no pun intended). There is no time as I feel all this music has become a classical repertoire (in the best sense of the world classical). But also new at the same time. Why can’t complex music be also popular?

This concert is indeed a party, a tour de force, a travel to unknown places, dark corridors and magnificent halls.

And this band is probably one of the few that can bear the title of being ‘indie’. No record label, marketing, strategies. Only music and the artist. No filler content to replace the lack of ‘real’ content. I am probably witnessing something unique.

Red lights on Starless middle section. What is our grey hope? And then the ending…

“Nothing he’s got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.

We are still looking for what we really need, may this question be answered one day…for tonight the promise I to see this band again.

The magnificent seven: Collins, Fripp, Harrison, Jakszyk, Levin, Mastelotto, Stacey

Set 1
Tuning Up
Hell Hounds of Krim
Pictures of a City
Cirkus
Fracture
The Letters
Sailor’s Tale
Peace: An End
Radical Action (To Unseat the Hold of Monkey Mind)
Meltdown
VROOOM
The Court of the Crimson King
Easy Money
Radical Action II
Level Five

Set 2
Fairy Dust
Lizard (‘The Battle of Glass Tears – Part i: Dawn Song’)
Indiscipline
Epitaph
The ConstruKction of Light
Red
A Scarcity of Miracles
The Talking Drum
Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two
Starless

Encore:
Banshee Legs Bell Hassle
21st Century Schizoid Man