last night i had the pleasure of accompanying my good friend jason to see sufjan stevens at the long center here in austin. i've been a casual fan of his since 2005 so i was definitely interested in seeing him live. i know plenty of people who hate on sufjan stevens and all i have to say to them is, "whatever." yes, he's probably overly confident. okay, he seems condescending. and yeah, it's possible that he's a giant asshole but if i went through my itunes and deleted all the bands/artists that are overly confident, condescending assholes, i don't know what i would be left with. i'm not saying that everyone comes across the way sufjan does (to most people), but i think that a lot more artists behave the same way than we realize. so i guess i choose to just listen to the music. wow, that sounded cheesy.
anyway, if you were to present a list to me like this:
back up singers
man so nerdy it's painful
too many people crammed onto one stage
bright white tennis shoes
unruly hair/facial hair
and ask me to identify the 3 things i would least expect to see at a sufjan stevens show i would select auto-tune, fly girls, and a neon visor. and in 2005 i would have been absolutely right. but in 2010 i would have to look at that list and say, "all of those things would be at a sufjan stevens show." i mostly used the term "fly girl" in jest but his 2 backup singers also did choreographed dances to several of the songs. so, maybe they aren't really fly girls, but they're close!
i listened to about half of the age of adz (pronounced oddz) when it was streaming on npr and that was my only exposure to the new material, which is immense and heavily electronic. now i think that the age of adz needs to be experienced live. the entire stage production was unbelievable, some might say it was over the top. i might agree with that but that doesn't mean i didn't enjoy the hell out of it. there were a few times during the show when i looked at everything deeper than the surface and felt a little disgusted by how self-indulgent it all seemed but when i climbed out of that, i enjoyed myself again. it seemed almost masturbatory at times and i'm sure some people could be really put off by that.
there were 10 people on stage behind stevens. that's a lot of people! they had a huge sound that had moments of being too huge. they played for 2 hours, about an hour and a half of that was new stuff from the age of adz as well as a new ep called all delighted people. stand out songs included the title track, vesuvius, and impossible soul which stevens describes as, "a 25 minute psychotherapy session." the last half our was spent on older material, including my 2 favorites from come on feel the illinoise, john wayne gacy jr and casimir pulaski day. and then there were the lights and graphics! i honestly can not describe the visual stimulation that went on during the show, it's just something that you would have to see to understand. suffice it to say i have never seen anything like it in my life. i didn't really take any pictures but i did manage to get this one which captured both the fly girls and the neon visor i previously mentioned:
stevens went off on a bit of a tangent (that was too long) about an outsider artist by the name of royal robertson. he spoke of the themes that are present in royal's work and what that meant to him as far as inspiration for this album. it wasn't un-interesting, but it just seemed a bit long winded (like this blog post if i were actually reading it aloud). the gist of it all seemed to be that the new music is about love, heartache, and the apocalypse. love and heartache are common themes in music but the part about the apocalypse seemed odd to me at first until he went on for a while about our society's fascination with it. i've never given it much thought but i guess he's right, there are tons of books and movies depicting someone's idea of what the end of time will be. so why shouldn't it be included in songs as well?
the bottom line is this: go see a show on this tour and be prepared to experience what i like to call sufjan and the amazing technicolor acid trip.