Sufjan Stevens -11.10- Philly
I was very curious about seeing Sufjan Stevens live, for multiple reasons. First of all, his show was at the beautiful Academy of Music in downtown Philadelphia, and I couldn’t wait to see what a show would be like in such a venue. Beyond the venue, I wasn’t really sure what to expect out of Sufjan himself: was it going to be the folk-y Sufjan we’ve come to know on his previous “state” albums, or the more dramatic and theatrical character we were introduced to on his most recent EP, All Delighted People, and most recent full length, The Age of Adz. Whatever my expectations or hopes were, I was blown away by the show he put on.
The stage was set up with several stations each comprised of multiple instruments and amplifiers and machines and other things that I don’t know what they were… but it all looked pretty complicated. Sufjan and his large backing band came out and took their places across the stage, each dressed in more than slightly ridiculous, modern-looking costumes, with Sufjan himself even wearing a pair of feathered wings. After playing a slow, dramatic opening song from Seven Swans, Sufjan addressed the crowd, thanking them for coming out, and promising sweet dance moves, costume changes, and other theatrical tricks that would make our money worthwhile before launching into Too Much, the second track off his most recent album. A screen dropped in front of the stage to emphasize the crazy light show to go with the song, and three dancers showed off their choreographed moves behind the musicians while Sufjan made singing and playing while showing off sweet white-boy dance moves look easy from the center of the stage.
The entire show was made up of songs from The Age of Adz, with the exception of Heirloom and The Owl and the Tanager, two slow songs from his All Delighted People EP. Sufjan gave a slightly longwinded explanation of his new album, saying that he had set out writing with the intention of leaving behind the geographic and spiritual nature of his previous works, along with the banjo and piano sound he had perfected, and instead focus on his inner self, and explained that a lot of inspiration had come from the artwork and life of Royal Robertson whose artwork was used in the album artwork for The Age of Adz and in the videos projected during the entire show. Though Sufjan did tend to ramble on a bit at this point in the show, it became clear how proud he is of his new music, despite its divergence from the solid catalog that he has already gained so much notoriety for and collected such a strong fan base from. Creating something as personal and different as The Age of Adz could leave an artist in an incredibly vulnerable state, but Sufjan owned his art and really seemed to have a great time sharing it with the Philadelphia crowd.
I wasn’t sure that it would be possible for him to perform Impossible Soul, it being so heavy with voice effects and being over 25 minutes long, but play it he did… and he even did so wearing a gorilla mask for a large portion of the song. The song was met with a standing, cheering crowd, who didn’t stop clapping and yelling until Sufjan came back out on stage to encore several minutes later. The encore could not have been more perfect, playing Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois, Chicago, and John Wayne Gacy, Jr. The encore was received with a standing ovation and, personally, I was speechless. If I could have handpicked the set list for the show, it would’ve been exactly what had been played that evening.