Article and Photos By L. Paul Mann
FULL PHOTO GALLERY at the bottom
It was already going to be an unusual evening in Hollywood which is saying something in a town known for its strange excesses especially in the entertainment world. Sufjan Stevens was set to play his new exotic album Planetarium as part of the summer evening concert series at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. The series features esoteric artists out of the mainstream of typical pop music. The concerts take place in the lush greens gardens amidst the mausoleums of some of the cities elite list of departed souls. The graveyard is full of Hollywood mover and shakers, including some famous rockers. As thousands of people found a spot to lay out their blankets and picnics for the much-loved event, the sun began to set over the dramatic landscape. The sun bounced off tombstones with the faces of long dead celebrities etched on them.
In a great irony, the July 20th concert happened to fall on the birthday of recently departed rocker Chris Cornell. His fresh grave site was right next to the concert. In an even more bizarre and unnerving twist, Cornell’s good friend Chester Bennington had just followed his friend into oblivion just hours before. The 41year old Bennington had helped give the eulogy for Cornell at the same spot just two months ago. There was already a shrine forming at the gravesite for the 41-year-old singer of Linkin Park as the summer sun reflected on the spot.
The concert began with an acoustic set by Thousand Oaks singer and songwriter Angelo De Augustine. The 24 year took the stage armed only with an acoustic guitar took the stage and seemed visibly nervous. “I am sorry my voice is shaky. This is by far the largest crowd that I ever played for.” The young folk singer went on to thank Sufjan Stevens who has had a hand in helping produce the new artist. The young singer eventually found his voice, and as his face was painted by the brilliant setting summer sun, he began singing like an angel. Considering the location, the singers soothing songs matched perfectly with the tenor and mood of the evening and the audience seemed pleased with what they heard.
After a short intermission, Sufjan Stevens and his band took the stage just as twilight began to fall across the cemetery. By this time the crowd had swollen sprawled across the vast green lawns and nestled between mausoleums in all directions. Stevens welcomed the audience and immediately launched into his new project Planetarium. Stevens was joined by the core band on the album including Nico Muhly an American contemporary classical music composer and arranger, from New York. Also in the band were Bryce David Dessner, an American composer, and guitarist based in Paris, best known as a member of the band The National, and James McAlister the long time collaborating drummer for Stevens. The band also featured several classical musicians playing string instruments.
The four began the Planetarium project several years and had just recently released the album which consists of 17 tracks totaling more than 75 minutes of music. The concept album revolves around planets in solar system with an electronic soundtrack to match the personality of the different worlds. The band played the experimental piece in its entirety with a video background that featured quite literally spacey graphics. Led by Stevens who also has an angelic singing voice the band created a soundtrack that sounded a bit like a modern Pink Floyd concert. The concert, with its nearly perfect outdoor summer night setting in the cemetery, was a unique an entering performance that pleased the large crowd and resulted in an extended standing ovation at the finale. It was a melancholy but somehow perfectly fitting evening of music in the heart of Hollywood, with the spirits lingering in the darkness.