Sufjan Stevens in concert was what I thought it would be, and it wasn’t. He’d like that answer.
One thing was clear after listening to his music and his short monologues between songs, Sufjan is in a stage of purgation. My guess is that he’s dealing with some messy stuff in his past or in his present, which comes out in his music. It’s significantly darker than his earlier material, and I’d say even the brighter parts of it are not the hope I hear in previous albums.
“If anyone came here to listen to me play the banjo, they can see me after the show. There’s a money-back guarantee.” Those were his words towards the end of the concert. At least he was aware.
The concert was almost entirely any work he did in the past two albums, and really just “Age of Adz” (which I learned at the concert is pronounced odds, not ads). If anyone has listened to this album, they’ll notice a dramatic shift to synthesizers with a heavy electronic sound. I don’t mind this, and I don’t mind his older material, but it is a shift, and I’m sure we all had to change our Sufjan paradigms when we heard it. The concert was a visible form of this shift.
Two strong points about it.
The videos played during the songs. These were wonderful. The most memorable was the multicolored sea plant that grew from the bottom left corner of the screen to eventually fill the entire background. Other times, inspired as Sufjan said by the artwork of Royal Robertson, it was like we were a few feet off the surface of another planet with all sorts of moving architecture flying toward us. This went on for many of the songs. It worked, though I felt like I was in a 60s sci-fi movie throughout much of it.
And the choreography, particularly the dancers themselves. Yes, there was choreography at the Sufjan Stevens concert. They seemed to have a dance for each of the newer songs and Sufjan would sometimes join as if the words went along with the songs, like a person could jump in at any time depending on what words or moves went at that part. Sufjan’s dancing was a mix between undulations and robotic gestures that fit with the music.
The best song during the show was his 25 minute song, “Impossible Soul” that ended with a kind of dance-off between one of the dancers and Sufjan on the tiny runway in front of the stage. His new style seemed to work in longer doses, letting the listeners enter a meditative state.
He finished the show with three of his older songs: “Chicago”, “Casimir Pulaski Day”, and “Flint (For the Unemployed and Underpaid).” A friend of mine said this made the concert worth it. This is true because if he stayed with only his newer material, it’d be a denial for both himself and us.