Happy to have been Gabe’s last-minute +1 for yesterday’s Sufjan Stevens show at the Beacon. I’ve been listening to The Age of Adz for the past several weeks and have grown pretty accustomed to its strangeness— a kind of campy, DIY electro-futurism seemingly calculated to flummox fans of the precious, idealized-campfire-singalong Sufjan. During the first half of the performance, which was mostly new material, the audience seemed almost cowed; it wasn’t until after the 25-minute epic Impossible Soul and the band played the inevitable Chicago that we heard girls screaming “Sufjan, you changed my life!”
When I listen to the record, Impossible Soul seems like about five separate songs roughly stitched together, but live, it was unaccountably satisfying. It’s the same kind of sense one has trying to understand the last movement of Mahler’s 2nd symphony; if you’re not almost bodily involved in the music, it can sound episodic, or even nonsensical (but then, Mahler doesn’t have mid-movement dance parties, or release balloons from the ceiling). It makes me so, so happy to see a “pop” composer experimenting with large-scale forms, and even happier to hear them work so well. I can’t exactly even say why it works, but it has something to do with its place on the album, and in the show, and the thinning and thickening of textures, and the pacing of events. I suppose those qualities decide why most music succeeds or fails.
After which the “encore” section of the show felt like a completely different set— mostly consisting of material from Illinois, with only light contributions from the band (by the way, yeah! that was Alex Sopp up there!). Chris Thile’s quip about Arcade Fire— “ten people doing the work of four”— felt apropos here. Sufjan ended the night with the ultimate downer, John Wayne Gacy, Jr., almost whispered— you could feel the entire theater collectively holding its breath.