Reposting of http://users.livejournal.com/_citizen_insane/9375.html
- courtesy of Citizen Insane:Come On Feel The Illinoise!As previously stated, I recently saw Sufjan Stevens at Calvin College this past Friday. I took the time to write up a review. It was an awesome show.
Live: Sufjan StevensCalvin College
, Grand Rapids, MI; 30 March 2007
On Friday, indie sensation Sufjan Stevens pulled double duty playing a 6:30 show for participants of Calvin College’s Festival of Faith & Music
and another at 9:30 for the public. Fans began lining up for the late-night Sufjan show three hours before doors even opened. The fans that were lucky enough to be first in line were treated to echoes of the Sufjan concert already going on inside Calvin’s Fine Arts Center, a venue that barely held 1,200.
Once the audience was herded into the auditorium, Sufjan teased his fans by coming out onto the stage and tuning his banjo and guitar. Anticipation grew as audience members spoke aloud: “I hope he plays ‘Decatur
,’ or “I wonder what outfits they’ll be wearing.” Then, as if rain hit a barren desert, Sufjan and his band of nine musicians took the stage at 10 o’clock, armed with instruments, butterfly wings, and feathered masks.
Upon the band’s entrance, Sufjan was greeted with delightful applause. However the audience did not burst out into thunderous yells, but rather maintained a sense of civility as they sat still in the auditorium’s seats. Sufjan and his band opened with an epic-sounding “Majesty, Snowbird
.” The song was without error; its sheer volume overpowered the senses of each person in the crowd and although the venue was small, neither Sufjan nor band held back. The beauty of the song was deliberately broken down at its ending, as Sufjan and his band let out booming sonic chaos: Sufjan kicked out his chair and began pounding the keys of his grand piano, his brass section let loose a fever of notes, and his guitar players entered their instruments into a feedback frenzy.
After the noise died down, Sufjan took the microphone, introduced himself and his band, and then claimed that his next song was dedicated to an American legend: the Chevy Avalanche. Sufjan’s performance of “The Avalanche
” was upbeat and boisterous, seeming to signal Sufjan’s comfort with his audience and his native state of Michigan. After a clear-cut “Superman
Medley” where inflatable Supermen were distributed and flew around the auditorium, Sufjan began his first lone performance of the night: “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
.” The song was both sobering and beautiful as Sufjan’s voice and piano sounded as if he were alone with each member of the audience. Instead of his band entering at the end the Illinois opener, Sufjan finished the song on his own. Upon its completion, his band erupted into “[track='The Black Hawk War, Or, How To Demolish An Entire Civilization And Still Feel Good About Yourself In The Morning, Or, We Apologize For The Inconvenience But You're Going To Have To Leave Now, Or I Have Fought The Big Knives And Will Continue To Fight Them' artist=Sufjan Stevens]The Black Hawk War…[/track],” an effort that strayed very little from its source material.
Sufjan then played “[track='Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)' artist=Sufjan Stevens]Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head![/track]” after dedicating it to his grandmother. Although Sufjan complicated the song by changing its arrangements, the results were flat. The brass section was unfortunately unable to fill their space effectively and each band members’ additional vocals were overpowered by their instruments. In a concert of mostly hits, “Detroit” was a definite miss.
Periodically, Sufjan would begin each song with a short story or verbal introduction. He began “[track='The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!' artist=Sufjan Stevens]The Predatory Wasp Of The Palisades Is Out To Get Us![/track]” with a recall of everything he was afraid of as a child; the list included adults and bottle caps. It was in these moments, dressed in giant bird wings, that Sufjan capitalized on the small size of his venue. He was able to interact with the crowd, responding playfully to their shouted sentences, poking fun at his temporarily-broken wings, and telling stories meant to spark laughter.
It was as if Sufjan ping-ponged back and fourth from being emotionally heavy (as in his solo performance of “[track='John Wayne Gacy, Jr.' artist=Sufjan Stevens]John Wayne Gacy, Jr.[/track]”) to vibrantly playful (as in “The Tallest Man, the Broadest Shoulders
,” where the crowd clapped along with the music). He verbalized his concern for sounding too overbearing and would compensate by cracking a joke and playing a fun, upbeat song. Although Sufjan was successful in his transitions from heavy to soft, his lighthearted performances seemed to suffer and did not connect with audiences as much his more fervent material.
Following “The Tallest Man,” Sufjan embarked on his most powerful performance of the night: “[track='Seven Swans' artist=Sufjan Stevens]Sevens Swans[/track].” He began by telling a light hearted story from his past (his father compiling his family’s garbage and the back yard and setting it on fire), but even this story turned passionate as Sufjan recalled seeing seven swans of black smoke form in the clouds above. The song was certainly the most ambitious and impressive of the night. It sounded much darker than the studio recording (due, no doubt, to the additions of his brass section) and by its end, became beautiful dissonance as horns roared, guitars reverberated, and piano crashed.
Sufjan continued his sway of serious/happy by following with “Jacksonville
” and then closing with “Chicago
.” Both performances were straightforward, up-tempo renditions, but came off as tired, barring Sufjan’s choice of decorative sunglasses during his performance of “ "Jacksonville.”
Hopes for an encore were high. Applause never ceased as Sufjan thanked his audience and left the stage. Within minutes, Sufjan retook stage and began to play a solemn, but traditional “[track='The Dress Looks Nice On You' artist=Sufjan Stevens]The Dress Looks Nice On You.[/track]” By its end, the rest of his band had reentered and was accompanying him, although this barely added a new dimension to the Seven Swans song. “Casimir Pulaski Day
” followed and was significantly less somber. Although the song was made more heartfelt by Sufjan’s meek vocals, its ending was made more optimistic by the upbeat additions of his band. The happy ending suited Sufjan’s performance well; after all, he was afraid of sounding too dreary.