After spending the majority of the afternoon watching live CNN coverage of the rescue mission in Chile, more than 2,000 Torontonians sloshed through the rainy city streets towards Massey Hall to witness the second Canadian performance on Sufjan Steven’s Avalanche tour. At 8:00 p.m, just as the last of thirty-three Chilean miners were emerging from more than 600 meters below the rocky surface of the San Jose desert, Stevens and a team of twelve musicians, dancers, and singers captivated a sold-out audience of rained-soaked thirty-somethings, who huddled together in the old theatre to witness —for the second time that day—the capacity of the human heart.
The world watched for 69 days as the Chilean government worked with engineers and specialists to mobilize rescue plans for thirty-three miners who were trapped underground when 700,000 tonnes of rock collapsed over the entrance to the Mina San Jose (San Jose Mine) in early August. “This is to lift your spirits after all that drama” said Stevens between sets. While it’s possible Stevens was alluding to the miners in Chilie, the economic crisis in the states, or just about anything making political headlines these days, it’s also possible he was appealing to the personal drama of heartbreak. Whatever ails you, Stevens has the remedy. And it’s precisely this —this ability to pull people in, to make them feel—that makes him a successful artist.
Outside, before the show, we smoked cigarettes, wondering aloud how Stevens would manage to produce in concert the bold sounds that he’s known for. His music draws from a variety of inspirations, blending folk sounds with tribal beats. In any given track, harps, horns and harmonicas creatively mingle in a synthesizia of sound. When Stevens took the stage, he was not alone. Joined by a band of ten and encouraged by an audience of 2,700 swaying bodies, Steven’s played into the night, working together with his team to make the sounds that turn listeners inside out.
Hearing Stevens play is a visceral experience. You want to close your eyes and feel the ebb and flow your blood and nerves swishing around inside you; you feel it in your toes. When I first heard his music, it was a cool night in summer. We were in a friend’s basement apartment. He played “Chicago” for me, the track Steven’s would close with. Contrary to my jaded beliefs, the music convinced me of love and persuaded me to be open to the power of faith. Amidst a rapidly depreciating environment, a stormy economic climate, and consumer culture that privileges an ethic of capitol, Steven’s music reminds us of love. Yes, love—it’s that warm feeling buried inside you. I promise you can feel it, just close your eyes and dig deep. Peel back your hardness, open the door to your ribcage, and allow the notes to enter.
I sat back and let the music take me. 5,353 Miles away, Chilie celebrated the collaborative success of the rescue mission, with all thirty-three miners and two rescue workers safely above ground. I didn’t have a good seat: obstructed view, left balcony, row 120, seat zero: the furthest seat to the left that you can occupy without sitting on the suspended stage lights. Still, Steven’s message from his apocalypse tour was straightforward: “the end of the world is ultimately the end of the heart.” Whatever you have buried, and no matter how deep, love will save us from the depths of the underground. It’s simple: you close your eyes, you let the music hoist you up, and you emerge. -L.M.