Between each of Sufjan Stevens’ 2010 releases, All Delighted People EP and The Age of Adz (pronounced odds), it was awfully hard to not be enthusiastic at the notion of seeing his act live. In the past, Sufjan would have a near full orchestra for some shows and play a rather large-scale event, but no words or reviews could have properly prepared anyone for the show his entire ensemble put on last night at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, one of the most lavish and beautiful venues I have ever entered. Previously, comparing other releases such as Illinois and Seven Swans, I cannot say that I would have been chomping at the bit to see either live, but the energy and mystique that surrounds The Age of Adz was enough to imagine how it would all translate live. We all can sit and listen to any Sufjan Stevens record and not really get a clear picture as to how much or what kind of emotion was put into this record, but in person, watching the maestro perform his work, everything was revealed.
As the theater lights dimmed, a roar erupted as Sufjan Stevens took stage donned with a small set of white, feathered wings on his back. Gently strumming his banjo to “Seven Swans,” the entire theater was silent as all eyes and attention were squarely on Sufjan as no other band members were visible at this point. The first break in “Seven Swans,” which was originally just a strike of the piano, erupted into a loud and ferocious roar as the remaining thirteen band members came to life with trombones, flutes, keyboards, and two drummers among everything else. It was a moment that sent chills down my spine that continued even further when Sufjan Stevens continued by himself onto the next verse. Ending “Seven Swans,” the screen that was originally over the entire ensemble lifted as they ended on a rather unexpected free form noise jam. Unashamed, I nearly cried because of such joy to experience what was playing.
Shortly after “Seven Swans,” Sufjan Stevens took time for a clothing change and explaining what we would hear throughout the night, as he said best, “I’m going to be singing songs about love, death, heartache, fullness of the heart, the absence of the heart, the end of the world, the beginning of the world, and the middle of the world. It’s like Avatar meets Cats on Ice.” Love was the theme as “Too Much” began with as a stop motion screen of Sufjan and others frolicking and dancing as the backdrop. Three female dancers (two of which are also vocalists), added a fun bouncy punch to “Too Much” as the band members were wonderfully outgoing, decked out in various attire fitting for such an outlandish show. The dynamics within tracks such as “The Age of Adz” and “Vesuvius” were perfectly executed, as you could hear every instrument no matter how loud any other instrument was such as the flute over the boisterous trombones. During “The Age of Adz,” it was neat to hear the electronic drum portions played naturally by the two drummers who kept the show breathing the entire night. The acoustics in the Beacon Theatre allowed “Heirloom,” “Futile Devices,” and “Enchanting Ghost” to thrive, as the sound from my peasant-class seat in the upper balcony was impeccable.
The last six songs of the night were breathtaking for all different reasons. Starting with the epic 25-minute “Impossible Soul” performance, every detail was played to perfection and every emotion showed in full bloom. During the second half, (at the auto-tuned part onward), was where the song flourished the most. The transition after the auto-tuned section, two of the dancers/vocalists were silhouetted behind an overlapping prism and shown dancing as Sufjan was as lively as ever jumping up and down. From hearing the track on the record, it was pretty apparent how jubilant the section where he sings, ‘it’s a long life, better pinch yourself, put your face together, gonna get it right,’ but to see the life in the band and dancing from everyone with beach balls flying all over the theater just proved to me how much pleasure Sufjan Stevens had while writing The Age of Adz. As he said, ‘this song is a sort of psychotherapy’ and it truly is such an enlightening experience and piece of music. Without much warning, “Chicago” reminded everyone that the show was far from over as balloons cascaded from the ceiling as the energy continued to pour throughout the Beacon Theatre as the crowd sung and volleyed balloons around.
After a long encore break, as members went to change into regular attire, separate from the glow-in-the-dark makeshift clothing they were wearing, there was a solid five-minute ovation that never ceased until they walked back onstage. “Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois” began a somber four-song encore of past released tracks along with “Casimir Pulaski Day,” “To Be Alone With You,” and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” The four tracks really put a sentimental note on the entire performance that went through a wide spectrum of emotions and silliness. During “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” (and most of the encore) never have I heard a venue so quiet, and it is an ode to the respectful manner of the entire crowd at the Beacon Theatre that night and an endorsement to the respect that everyone had for Sufjan Stevens and company.
On a final note, it is incredible to think that even though I listen to Sufjan Stevens at exceeding levels, especially recently, I had not true concept of the type of person he was. He is an artists that enjoys explaining the methods behind his madness, especially as of late, and it is such a breathe of fresh air, just to hear his ideas and thoughts about particular people, past personal events, and details about his songs. Watching someone perform their work really extracts the smallest of details out, and reinforces my thoughts of reviewing an album only after you have seen the act live. I was not even mad they didn’t play “I Want To Be Well,” because everything else was that good. As for the actual show, never have I been so captivated and into a performance in my life, it was more than just playing the songs and showing energy, the amount of thought put into the production of everything was incredible. Especially considering such a modestly priced ticket for a high profile act supporting a slew of other phenomenal performers, artists, and crew members. Simply put, out of the 120+ concerts I have been to, this one was without a doubt the best yet.
Age of Adz
Now That I’m Older
Get Real Get Right
Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
Casimir Pulaski Day
To Be Alone With You
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
All pictures (besides top picture) courtesy of: tammylo