The sounds and sensations of Sufjan Stevens

Sufjan Stevens + DM Stith – Beacon Theatre – November 14th

Question: What do you get when you combine “Avatar with Cats on Ice?”
Answer: the best show of the year.

Sufjan at the Beacon Theatre (Photo Tammy Lo)

Sufjan Stevens and company played for an amazing 2 hours and 13 minutes. (For those counting, that’s longer than it took Gebre Gebremariam to complete the New York Marathon last week, and it seemed every bit as epic and exhausting.  By the third song (and the third upper body costume change), Sufjan was already wiping the sweat from his brow. That shiny silver (looks like insulation) jacket couldn’t have helped matters. Sufjan could have easily relied on his three lovely female back-up singers (including the lovely Cat Martino who typically lends her talents to Sharon Van Etten) to the dancing, but he couldn’t help but participate in the over-the-top choreographed moves.

Sufjan and back-up singers/dancers (Photo Tammy Lo)

From the comfort of my fourth row seat, I may not have had the chance to dance along myself, but my lack of movement in no way hindered my appreciation of the show. My heart was beating more quickly than it would have had I just run five miles.

From his childhood fear of vertigo to his theories of physics and his impressions of one enthralling – perhaps crazy – artist (1), Sufjan’s banter took some odd turns, but his frenzied mid-set confessions and analyses fit in well with the chaotic nature of his new material. This is not music for the faint of heart. It’s worth noting that Sufjan didn’t play a single song from the beautifully subdued album Greetings from Lake Michigan. With as many as thirteen people surrounding him on stage (including the excellent opener DM Stith on piano), the show featured nearly all new songs, with just a couple of older songs thrown in at the beginning and end of his set and encore.

Easily the best example of Sufjan’s new music is the truly epic, 25-minute song “Impossible Soul,” which apparently the crew plays every night.  Sufjan joked that the song was therapeutic for the band (2), and it’s easy to see why. The peaceful, melodic introduction soon spirals into controlled chaos as the tension builds. And yes, you heard right. This is when the auto-tune comes in.

It was “Impossible Soul” that finally motivated the crowd to get to their feet and actually start dancing… cue the confetti cannons and later, the canopy of multi-colored balloons. With the balloons rising and falling throughout the orchestra section of the beautiful historic venue during “Chicago,” I felt as if we were living in a rainbow snow globe.  The magical scene had the audience actually laughing with pure, childlike glee.

Take a listen to a little mash-up of “Impossible Soul” (with Cat Martino on vox)… followed by “Chicago.”

Of course, being that this was a therapy session, Sufjan followed up this amazing high with a few weepies – “Casimir Pulaski Day” (which makes me cry every time), “To Be Alone With You,” and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” From ridiculous dance moves to songs about serial killers in just a few minutes. Now that’s what I call therapy. The range of emotions I felt over the course of the two+ hour show was simply amazing. Remember when music actually made you feel? Remember how nice that was? Yes.

Beacon Theatre, a kaleidoscope of colors, a ball pit of energy (photo Chris Robinson)

Sufjan setlist
Seven Swans
Too Much
Age of Adz
I Walked
Futile Devices
Now That I’m Older
Get Real Get Right
Enchanting Ghost
Impossible Soul

Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, IL
Casimir Pulaski Day
To Be Alone With You
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

(1) Sufjan explains the “attractive insanity” of the eccentric artist from Louisiana who inspired much of his new experimental music

(2) Sufjan introduces “Impossible Soul”


2 Responses to “The sounds and sensations of Sufjan Stevens”

  1. 1 jeeperstseepers November 15, 2010 at 10:10 am

    Fantastic review of an amazing show. I’m impressed that you could write about it so soon; I got home on such a high that when I tried to post about it in my LJ, I ended up just verbally flailing a lot less gracefully than Sufjan danced.

  2. 2 Matt November 18, 2010 at 3:55 am

    Great recordings!

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"He considered music a liberating force: it liberated him from loneliness, introversion, the dust of the library; it opened the door of his body and allowed his soul to step out into the world to make friends."

- Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being


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