So I got to hit up the Sufjan Stevens concert on Friday. Many of you know who he is. For those of you who don't I invite you first to go here and here. My friend Nevair was able to snatch up tickets immediately after they went on sale. They were sold out in a matter of hours for the historic, several-thousand seat venue, The Chicago Theatre.
My thoughts are brief, but as follows: Unlike many others it seems, I knew what I was getting into with this concert. Sufjan has recently released a new album, The Age of Adz. It is a pretty far depature from what fans have come to know and love. He has acknowledged this, noting the challenges of growing in his song writing. At one point in the concert he mentioned how he is trying to revamp his entire methodology, whatever that means.
The opening song was the title track from his album Seven Swans. Strong with banjo and building to a large climactic repetition of the lyric, "He is the Lord," this song is a favorite among many. When it ended, he lay the banjo down and I thought it was symbolic of the transition he is making in his music from his trademark sound to this new, experimental groove marked with even more instrumentation coupled with synthesized sounds, and for Sufjan, heavy electric guitar.
The rest of the night featured his new album. I believe all the tracks on the album were played except for my favorite and perhaps most controversial, I Want to be Well. There were moments when you wanted to dance as badly as he does. There were moments when you wanted to just sit there and take all of it in. There were moments of utter confusion and brilliant clarity. The concert was a complete event that elicited both pain and joy for me.
The concept of the album centers around a schizophrenic apocalyptic painter/drawer, Royal Robertson. As best as I can gather from what Sufjan said during the show, the album is an exploration and expression of the "internal cosmos" that is universal to all humanity. However, this was tempered for me when Sufjan stated earlier in the show that New Age thought is a bunch of "B.S." Maybe as Sufjan struggled so much with his writing and expression, he found a connection with Royal Robertson, that ultimately reveals the schizophrenic in all of us that just wants to be well. Sufjan is fairly obvious about his Christian faith, so I am wondering if there the desire to express the real, deep struggle of walking in this world with Christ. There is so much more tension, heartache and brokenness than pop-evangelicalism allows.
Anyway, Sufjan closed the night with classics. He ended the main set with his most popular track, "Chicago," to feed all our deepest longings to be connected to him as a local. Then I was surprised he closed the three song encore with his most troubling and haunting song, John Wayne Gacy, Jr. He was alone on the stage singing, "I am just like him." Whatever highs were established earlier in the show were completely destroyed by the end of that as he walked off. Amazing.
Below is a two-minute clip from Chicago. This was the best concert I've been to for a long time. If you get the chance to see him on this tour, do it. You won't regret it.
By His Grace.