When a singer-songwriter performs an entire album’s worth of musical meditations on death and loss, well, you expect the concert to be something of a downer. And alt-pop iconoclast Sufjan Stevens’ recent performance at Albany’s Palace Theatre certainly was no rock & roll dance party, as he played all of the songs from his brand new album, Carrie and Lowell, penned following the death of his estranged mother.
“What is that that song you sing for the dead?” he sang during “Death with Dignity,” the opening song of the show, following the wordless, largely instrumental intro, “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou).” But there was no one single answer. In fact, songs for the dead filled the first half of the concert, as Stevens and his backing quartet of multi-instrumentalists examined grief and mourning in all its many facets. The intensely personal songs plumbed the depths of emotional turmoil from guilt to despair to anger, and yet ultimately the concert was a glorious, deeply spiritual affirmation of life and faith.
He dealt frankly and nakedly with death, and yet discovered an underlying hope. It was, in one word, majestic.
“Step right up, come on in, if you’d like to take the grand tour…”
Hearing Aaron Neville – the golden voice of New Orleans’ First Family of Funk ‘n’ Soul – sing the classic heartbreaker by the late country music legend George Jones was a vivid reminder that the barriers between musical styles – between New Orleans and Nashville, for instance – are all just in our heads.
Now I don’t mean to get all “Kumbaya” here. It takes major talent to tackle a repertoire that stretches across genres to encompass vintage Brill Building R&B, Leonard Cohen, Jimmy Reed’s blues, Burt Bacharach, Philly soul, street-corner doo-wop, a gospel hymn… and the George Jones tearjerker.
And it takes a real gift to put your own undeniable stamp on each and every one of those oh-so-diverse songs and make them your own.
But, of course, Aaron Neville’s voice is a genuine gift.
Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Due to the threat sever weather, the Alive at Five concert was moved indoors to the Times Union Center in Albany. The bad weather never showed up, but it was probably a good decision nonetheless. Better to be safe than… well, you know. And it was nice to see the City (which runs the Alive at Five series) and the County (which runs the TUC) working together.
But the move indoors made the concert seem like a low-budget arena rock show rather than the usual, fun-in-the-sun party in Corning Preserve. And the truth of the matter is that ’90s pop-rockers Smash Mouth were never much more than a frat-rock party band – not even in their heyday.
I’m not saying that these were the best albums of the year. But they were the ones that I found myself returning to again and again and again:
13. Laura Marling’s “A Creature I Don’t Know” (Virgin)
12. Joe Ely’s “Satisfied at Last” (Rack’em)
11. Tom Waits’ “Bad as Me” (Anti-)
10. Alison Krauss & Union Station’s “Paper Airplane” (Rounder)
9. Abigail Washburn’s “City of Refuge” (Foreign Children)
8. Gillian Welch’s “The Harrow & the Harvest” (Acony)
7. Gretchen Parlato’s “The Lost and Found” (ObliqSound)
6. James Blake’s “James Blake” (Universal Republic)
5. Wilco’s “The Whole Love” (dBpm)
4. Lindsey Buckingham’s “Seeds We Sow” (Mind Kit)
3. Ry Cooder’s “Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down” (Nonesuch)
2. Glen Campbell’s “Ghost on the Canvas” (Surfdog)
1. Willy DeVille’s “The Best of Willy DeVille: Come a Little Bit Closer” (Eagle)
Bread And Puppet Theatre: “The Decapitalization Cabaret" (photo by Ed Atkeson)
Although this list features several dramas and musicals, it also features a number of other events that might not qualify as “theater” under stricter rules – a dance performance, a fashion/art show, an autobiographical concert, a couple of puppet shows and several performances that were simply unclassifiable.
Fortunately, there are no rules at Nippertown:
“Superior Donuts” @ Capital Repertory Theatre, Albany
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