Philharmonie de Paris
words by tom johnson
photography by beth chalmers
“As I Am About To Enter Your World
I Give You Blood”
Those that witnessed Sufjan Steven’s Age Of Adz were treated not only to one of the great live shows but also to an overwhelming abundance of stage design, drama, and delivery; an otherworldly performance-piece that took the audience in to a whole other world. Stevens’ latest project, the Planetarium record which was co-composed with The National’s Bryce Dessner, multi-instrumentalist Nico Muhly, and frequent collaborator James McAlister, and released last month, takes on similar pastures to that aforementioned record – a sci-fi inspired bout of melodrama with suitably tender moments of escape – and while it’s both positively and progressively a collaborative effort, the live performance, this one taking place within the jagged and truly awe-inspiring walls of Paris’ Philharmonie hall, is undoubtedly his show. Front and centre, Sufjan might not conduct the whole thing in the atypical way that this hall will be accustomed to but he certainly guides the group’s magnificent spaceship that they’ve created right in to its beaming heart.
Feeling as pertinent a facet of the show as the musicians themselves, the Philharmonie is transformed tonight by a huge visual backdrop which houses the ever-changing visuals that have been put together for tonight’s show and they lend an air of magical mystery to proceedings that might well have existed regardless but conjure up an even more spectacular display of space-age dramatics.
Like the little dashes of radiance that leap out of the dark corners of the record itself, the visuals too simmer and leap in to life, backed also by a lighting show that turns the whole hall, at times, in to its very own Planetarium; swirling stars and swirl. As stunning a venue as it is, such a thing would count for nothing if the music didn’t flourish within it, but backed by both a brass and string section, not to mention the sheer quality of the four creators, the Planetarium record simply thrives within the live setting, taking on even greater clarity and resonance as a piece of live, unabashed theatre. Sufjan himself, though front and centre, is somewhat muted, occasionally breaking in to those robotic arm-dance moves that adorned both the Adz and Carrie & Lowell tours, but mostly concentrating on the task at hand, shifting back and forth between multiple sets of keys, gadgets, scripts, and the three microphones that are utilised throughout; leaving the captivating scenery behind him as the key protagonist.