Tag Archives: Massey Hall

Sufjan Stevens @ Massey Hall, Toronto (29/4/15)

Sufjan

Sufjan Stevens’ latest album, Carrie & Lowell, is an intimate affair fraught with lyrics so personal that they send a little pang through your chest as you absorb them. So, perhaps it makes sense that when Stevens stopped by Toronto’s Massey Hall, he had the audience in the palm of his hand for the duration of his nearly two-hour set.

After opening with Michigan’s gorgeous piano interlude “Redford (For Yia-Yia and Pappou)”, Stevens worked his way through the entirety of Carrie & Lowell (albeit in a slightly rearranged order). The album’s themes of loss, nostalgia, and spirituality felt especially resonant in the live setting. This was only enhanced by the intermittent home movie–style footage playing on the diamond-shaped screens hanging behind the stage.

Stevens brought an effortless sense of drama to everything about his live show. He didn’t say a word to the crowd for the first half of the show, instead letting the heft of Carrie & Lowell hang in the air a little while longer.

Things then got slightly livelier as Stevens and his band transitioned into some older material, highlighting several tracks from fan favourite Seven Swans. Stevens himself also opened up with a couple of rambling, subtly funny monologues later in the show.

Another highlight came late in the night as Stevens dropped an unlikely, charmingly shambolic cover of Neil Young’s “There’s a World” (a tribute to the night’s venue, which has famously hosted Young many times, including for his classic Live at Massey Hall album). Knowing the cover wasn’t going particularly well (though it was warmly received by the audience), Stevens took the opportunity to laugh at himself a bit mid-song. It was a nice, all-too-rare moment of seeing the rather serious, introverted Stevens loosen up.

After much hushed seriousness, the set ended with a heavily electronic, swirling wall of sound. It may not have been subtle, but it was an arresting culmination to all of the emotion that had come before.

Stevens’ encore seemed like a breather by comparison, and his final song of the night, 2005’s “Chicago” felt downright joyous in contrast. The horns and the enthusiastic crowd response made for a triumphant end to a sombre night.

The particular melancholy of Sufjan Stevens’ work has been cranked up to 11 on Carrie & Lowell, but in the live setting – aided by Stevens’ more heavily electronic re-arrangement of certain songs – the music is still devastating, but also manages to take on a new sense of life. It’s a cathartic experience, but if you’re along for the ride, Sufjan puts on a hell of a show.

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Ryan Adams @ Massey Hall, Toronto (12/11/14)

Ryanb Adams

Ryan Adams was in full-on Ryan Adams Mode at last night’s Toronto concert. His nearly two-hour set – and his stage banter between songs – was cantankerous, scruffy, and funny all at once. With a career-spanning setlist and a solid band backing him up, it was a show bound to please any fan, but also one that seemed to highlight Adams’ own frustrations.

At his more petulant moments, Adams casually eviscerated a heckler (though not before declaring that they were “best friends again” moments later) and was clearly a bit exasperated with the results of the audience “vote” to decide the concert’s final song, which inevitably fell in favour of “Come Pick Me Up”. (Massey Hall has a strict 11 p.m. curfew, so Adams had to cut things a little short.) However, his somewhat cranky persona is what fans have come to expect and, if not wholeheartedly love, at least accept in exchange for great music. (And, to be fair, Adams is arguably much harsher on himself than any drunken goon in the audience. “Here’s another song about my feelings,” Adams deadpanned at one point.)

With the full band backing him, Adams’ heavier material really shone. The few songs that he played from his recent self-titled album were among the night’s highlights, especially the swirling “Stay With Me”. He also dipped into 1984, his punk-y EP from earlier this year, to tear through through “Rats in the Wall” and “When the Summer Ends” with a crackling urgency that’s difficult to capture on recording. Earlier cuts like “This House is Not For Sale” and “Do I Wait” also felt propulsive and fresh in the “rock show” setting.

His mid-tempo material generally didn’t come across as dynamically and “Dear Chicago”, one of his most searing songs, felt surprisingly watered-down with a full band. However, it was undeniably exciting to hear “When the Stars Go Blue” live. Adams mixed up the ballad’s arrangement just enough while still staying true to the song’s original lovely (and, admittedly, slightly hokey) sentiment.

A real highlight of the show was the debut of a new song, “Do You Laugh When You Lie?” It’s part of his just-announced 7” and based on the live rendition, it feels very much in line with Adams’ latest LP down to the hooky guitars and anthemic chorus. Despite his fears of messing it up live, the song sounded great and offered a strong indication that the ever-prolific Adams still has a ton of exciting music in him.

Musically, Adams was in top form last night. And while the vibe of the show was more laborious than the last time I saw him live – in 2011, when he played a loose and spontaneous solo acoustic show and seemed to be in a more laidback mood – it still had the snarling energy that is key to Adams’ music. As fans we come for the Puddle of Mudd anecdotes, the life-sized stuffed tiger that adorned the stage, and, most importantly, a night of great music. And on all of these fronts (and many more), Adams certainly didn’t disappoint.