Although I felt like a teenybopper by arriving at the venue an hour before doors were scheduled to open, I suspected that I wouldn't be the only one who didn't mind camping out a little for Sufjan Stevens. Sure enough, the line already snaked around the corner at 6:30 PM, but doors opened early around 7:10 PM. I'd never been to a Sufjan show before and, as gruesome as this may sound, he's been on my list of musicians to see before I die. Radiohead was once on this list.
I think it'd be accurate to say that I've been waiting several years to see Sufjan Stevens. Perhaps I've encountered a select sampling, but I've found that most Sufjan fans pinpoint Greetings from Michigan as the album that hooked them in for life. I was late in the game, so my "first" Sufjan album was Seven Swans, for no particular reason other than I was uninterested in so-called indie music until late high school. Sufjan Stevens may be pioneering christian indie as a genre and the biblical allusions in Seven Swans are undeniable, but I never really considered Sufjan's music to be intentionally religious in subject matter. It never held that meaning for me, especially since I'd been raised in an Eastern faith, but Seven Swans moved me in such ways that I became a Sufjan fan for life. Besides, he put together two albums about my home state! I even had "Come on feel the Illinoise" engraved onto an iPod. I do not joke.
In person, Sufjan almost looks like an overgrown teenager in his shrunken tee and trucker hat. He was joined by Nedelle of opening act Cryptacize and special guests Bryce Dessner of The National and Rosie Thomas, who was never the mother of Sufjan's baby. Unsurprisingly, Sufjan didn't talk much, and he seemed like a pretty shy guy. But, he did joke around about making mistakes and weening himself off reading notes for his new songs. He referred to the old songs as "real songs," as if the new material were just experimentations. The new songs had big backing band sounds, electronic blips of some sort, an absence of strict song structure, and a bit of improvisation. They seemed to be a logical step forward from "You Are The Blood," the song Sufjan contributed to the Dark Was The Night compilation. I'm hoping that this fall tour is a sign that Sufjan is seriously preparing a new album.
While the new songs were interesting to hear, especially since it's been awhile since Sufjan released a proper album of songs, I admit that I was at the show to hear the old ones. My favorite of the night was "Casimir Pulaski Day," a song that actually moved me to tears. That's never happened to me at a show before, but it's hard not to get teary when Sufjan confronts you with such a tragic story, sung with a tinge of vulnerability. I'm sure that I wasn't the only one who was lost in Sufjan's songs. Sufjan's live performances are unbelievably powerful, because he's able to effortlessly recreate the moods of his recorded music without using any gimmicks (aside from the 44 effects pedals onstage). With just his musical instruments and his voice, Sufjan Stevens makes you fall for his music all over again. If music can be considered a faith or religion, then seeing Sufjan was a spiritual experience.
The Mistress Witch from McClure
Casimir Pulaski Day
All Delighted People (Note: The new live version sounds very different from the one posted below)
All The Trees Of The Field Will Clap Their Hands
Age of Adz
To Be Alone With You
The Dress Looks Nice On You
Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Lakes of Canada (Innocence Mission Cover)
Casimir Pulaski Day - Sufjan Stevens
Lakes of Canada - Sufjan Stevens
All Delighted People - Sufjan Stevens