Yesterday I babysat Imi and Samuel while their parents cleaned their house. Catherine said it was a shame to use up a babysitting time on cleaning, but I guess it must be very hard to get stuff done when you’ve got little ones underfoot all the time. We got all suncreamed up and went for a long walk to Croquembouche, a wonderful little patisserie on Botany Road. We had brioche and coffee (well, I had a coffee and Imi had a babycino, and I felt like such a yuppie ordering it) and bought a delicious salmon quiche to take back for lunch. It was actually really good babysitting during the day, when both kids were reasonably good-humoured and we could actually have fun and play together, instead of just putting them to bed and sitting around in someone else’s house on my own.
It was so hot and humid in the afternoon, I just ended up blobbing around at home. I was most excited to see that my zucchini plants have started to flower, and pruned back the insane tomato vines. I haven’t really blogged much about the garden (which is probably just as well, as I’m likely to get interminably boring about it) but I’m finding it exciting. Especially since things are actually growing and producing and not shrivelling up as I expected them to.
Mary, Guan and Ben B came round for dinner at 6. Mum was worried because we were eating essentially the same thing that we had the last time they came round for dinner (cold roast chicken, salad, etc), but it really wasn’t a problem and was very yummy, especially the salad with fresh mango in it. We drove into the city, parked at mum’s office in York St and walked down to the State Theatre, which was already crawling with indie music types and Sydney Festival types. And people like us, who of course are far too cool to be lumped into such narrow stereotypes…
I think I’m destined to run into old friends at these sorts of gigs. Maybe if I got out more I’d run into people more often and it wouldn’t seem like such a momentous thing. But anyway, as I walked into the State Theatre foyer, who should wave at me but the lovely N? N always makes me smile and gives lovely big hugs and is always excited about things, especially things like Sufjan Stevens, or Jeffery Smart (I also ran into him at a Jeffery Smart exhibition once). As I was listening to the music later on, I realised that Sufjan’s music reminds me of N, and I hadn’t consciously recognised it until that night. I’m not sure why – perhaps the whimsy and gentleness of it? So it was only fitting that I should see N at a Sufjan gig.
The support act was My Brightest Diamond, fronted by the punky and energetic Shara Worden. She came out in a white three-piece suit with her hair gelled up into a Roy Orbison-inspired coif and just…rocked out. She squirmed and swayed and stomped around the stage, hollering and crooning and wailing over a really meaty sounding band. Her recorded stuff is a lot less in-your-face than the live act, and I like both. In fact, it was one of the best support acts I’ve ever seen, probably assisted by the fact that she is actually in Sufjan’s band as well, so her music kind of complements his, even though it’s not especially similar. Her voice has an almost Bjorkian quality at times, but where Bjork is floaty and magical, Worden is almost primal and rooted in the earth. And very cute.
The first song was Seven Swans, and it was almost dreamlike, Sufjan’s whispery voice, a backdrop of melting, coalescing stars and this otherworldly sound – especially following MBD’s thumpy sound. Then they launched into the rowdy, brass-filled hyperbole of his Illinois stuff and we were away on a rollercoaster of a gig.
He looked like a cross between Pee Wee Herman and a bicycle courier, in white pants, a reflective vest and a funny looking cap, not much like the Sufjan from his promo photos (like the above). The rest of the band wore a uniform of sorts, white pants and grey vests, with the two women (Annie Clark from St Vincent and Shara Worden) in almost doll like girly dresses. As the night wore on, the outfits gradually stripped away to become more colourful, until they were all dressed in multi colours, almost like a sort of plumage.
It struck me, almost immediately, that although I was looking at 10 people onstage, it was really like looking into one person’s mind. The rich, polyphonic sound; the costumes; the ever-changing backdrop of abstract patterns or home movie footage; the easy camaraderie and effortless communication between all the band members. It felt like you were just looking inside Sufjan’s mind, and everything you saw or heard made sense in the context of that. It’s hard to explain – obviously all the band members were doing their own thing, but it was just so cohesive, so enmeshed, so perfectly flowing that it was a truly joyous thing to behold.
Of course the whimsy was there, like when Elaine ‘the hooper’ came on to hula hoop through one of the songs, and it seemed perfectly natural. Or when, in the last song before encore, the stage hands appeared with sets of wings which they fitted to each band member’s back, so that suddenly we were watching a stage full of gorgeous birds creating this shimmering sound. He looked around at one point, laughed and said, “It’s like a circus…a really bad circus…from an eastern European country…”
And amidst all the hoopla and nuttiness, he could still play songs like To Be Alone With You (the first Sufjan song I heard and fell in love with), and That Dress Looks Nice on You, which were heartbreaking in their simplicity. He could still sing loudly and joyously about God. He could laugh at himself and the absurdity and then ratchet it up a notch. No matter whether they were big, rambunctious numbers or quiet, intimate pieces, each song was a story, like a window onto a moment in time and space.
A truly perfect gig, and a pleasure to have seen inside such a person’s mind for one night. How lucky I was to be able to go! (and with such exemplary company!)