Wednesday, October 11

Live: Sufjan Stevens 10/9/06

The crowd at a Sufjan Stevens concert is about as indie as you’ll ever see. I knew this the second I walked in the doors of the Wiltern Theater. Tight pants, bandanas, high-wasted belts, tights and boots, everywhere I looked. This was an audience that was here for one purpose: to worship Sufjan as king of their own little world.

My friends and I missed My Brightest Diamond’s first song, and we regretted it the second we heard Shana Worden’s breathtaking voice resonating throughout the venue. Each of My Brightest Diamond’s songs was a lullaby on the brink disintegrating into phantasmagoric, nightmarish landscapes, commanded in full by the frontwoman’s powerful and somber stage presence. Their set drew almost entirely from their debut album, released earlier this year on Ashtmatic Kitty, but the surprising highlight was the cover of Nina Simone’s “Feeling Good”, which gave Worden the space to show how truly dynamic and beautiful her voice is. As their set closed, there wasn’t a person in the room who didn’t want Worden to stay onstage.

Which proved to be a wonderful thing indeed when she came back on as part of Sufjan’s band, dubbed “Majesty the Snowbird and the Magical Butterfly Brigade”. After a half hour of waiting and excited chatting (mostly concerning the presence of Danny DeVito, who was apparently somewhere in the venue), Sufjan’s eleven-piece orchestra came on stage, donning butterfly wings and various colorful masks. They began the instrumental buildup to “Sister”, during which the proper band (which included a much loosened-up and very enthusiastic Worden) made its entrance. Sufjan came on last, his gigantic wings making him the clear center of attention on stage as he sat down at the piano.

The set took equally from Sufjan’s three main albums, including a surprisingly large amount of songs from 2004’s underrated “Seven Swans”. The sound at the Wiltern was superb, each of the instruments (and, most notably, the drums) conspicuous and bright, giving the whole set a vitality that often lacks in big-band affairs. The crowd was indeed infatuated, and spent the night shouting obsessive adorations to Stevens, that, the majority of the time, he seemed uncomfortable reacting to. The man himself seemed a little ill at ease the whole night, throwing frustrated looks toward the orchestra and counting time signatures under his breath, but very rarely did any of these things interfere with the music.

Before he began “The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts”, Sufjan announced that they would be throwing inflatable Supermen out into the crowd to celebrate the fictional hero and, two minutes later, the audience was wildly tossing the Man of Steel off the mezzanine and up in the air in celebration as the band worked passionately through the song. Before beginning “Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!”, Sufjan shared a moment with a member of the crowd who applauded the Detroit Tigers’ victory over the New York Yankees. But, as Sufjan began rambling with hometown patriotism, Worden interrupted him by starting the song mid-sentence, smiling coyly and humbling the indie icon.

Stevens got the idea, and the next time he told a story, the background to “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades”, he made sure to tell it extra fast, which had the appreciative audience laughing and itching with anticipation of one of the highlights off “Illinois”. Later in the evening, when Sufjan played one of his original Christmas songs, inflatable Santa Clauses made their way into the audience, many of whom danced along with the Supermen that were still circulating.

“Chicago” was, of course, a crowd favorite, though Stevens played it with less fervor than was expected from such an energetic, emotional song. The highlight of the night, however, was Sufjan’s one new song, “Majesty the Snowbird”, an epic, sweeping tale that contrasts with the oft-impersonal staccatos of his “Illinois” compositions and is among the best signs of good things to come in the world of Sufjan.

The encore eschewed the orchestra for a much more personal, acoustic performance. Both “To Be Alone With You” and “The Dress Looks Nice On You” were gorgeous and reverent, and Sufjan left the stage to a crowd simply overflowing with love. He expressed gratitude the best he could, lingering almost confusedly onstage long after his band had left, bowing and waving.

And so the night was a triumph. Whatever difficulties Sufjan was having went almost entirely unnoticed and the utterly responsive crowd, along with Shana Worden’s charming and dynamic contributions, made the whole show an experience to remember, a tribute to a man who has stolen the hearts of the indie world and who, that night, proved that he deserved them.

1. Sister
2. The Transfiguration
3. The Man of Metropolis Steals Our Hearts
4. He Woke Me Up Again
5. Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head!
6. The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades
7. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
8. A Good Man Is Hard To Find
9. Majesty the Songbird
10. Casimir Pulaski Day
11. Jacksonville
12. That Was The Worst Christmas Ever
13. Chicago
14. The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders

15. To Be Alone With You
16. The Dress Looks Nice On You

My Brightest Diamond - Workhorse
Sufjan Stevens - The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades
Sufjan Stevens - The Dress Looks Nice On You

- Dominick Duhamel -

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At 1:27 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

"eschewed" is the best word

- dave


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