To be honest, before watching Sufjan Stevens and his band of amazing musicians/performers stun the sold out crowd of The Wiltern this past Sunday, I wasn’t sure how they could possibly attempt to replicate the intricacies of his latest effort, The Age Of Adz. For the next two hours, I was made to look like a fool as every nuance of almost every instrument (minus the woodwinds) was accounted for by Stevens and a backing ensemble that reached double digits.
After opening with a brilliant and haunting rendition of “Seven Swans,” Stevens jumped into much of the newest album’s material. Playing “Too Much” next, it was clear that everyone in attendance would get their money’s worth. Not only was the band up to the task of performing live such intense and demanding songs, they did it with seemingly uncontrollable glee. Two female backing singers boasted matching futuristic space outfits, hitting every note while simultaneously performing a choreographed dance for each song. A projector played clips of various animation and art in the background throughout the show, always lending itself directly to the song being played (during “Chicago” the screen was filled with what is assumed to be the van mentioned in the song, driving about in the background).
Stevens proved much more outgoing than his downtrodden music might suggest. That’s right, Sufjan got down, dancing often times like a confused robot, much to the excitement of the packed house. His insecurities were also on display, as he apologized for how whiny his material was. At one point, he spoke for 10 minutes about the life of schizophrenic painter Royal Robertson. While some might have considered it rambling (including Stevens himself), it was more thoughtful than just that. He explained that the painter would use very raw and rudimentary materials when creating his art. Sufjan drew inspiration from Roberton, using drum machines and synthesizers to create raw and rudimentary sounds, which he then layered with full songs on top of. While hyper-analytical almost to the extent of completely strange, Stevens was more personable than most musicians that I have seen in the past. He felt like a person on stage rather than a musician, if that makes any sense.
The musical highlight of the night was most definitely the 25-minute magnum opus, “Impossible Soul,” which Stevens and company performed… in full. To those who have listened to the song, you can easily understand that this is nothing short of an amazing feat. To those who have not, listen to the song and imagine it tirelessly performed live by at least 10 people while a laser/light/art show is played in the background, complete with a cheering and dance section, an auto-tune duet between Stevens and a backup singer (it sounds funny because it was kind of funny), and gold confetti for those lucky enough to be in the pit.
After a short hiatus from the stage, the band gave the relentless, cheering crowd the encore they were so anxiously hoping for. The encore consisted of strictly songs from Illinois, including “UFO’s…” and “Jacksonville.” Stevens ended the night with what is arguably one of his very best narrated songs, “Casimir Pulaski Day.”
Overall, there wasn’t much more that anyone in attendance could have asked for. Stevens and friends put on a show worthy of its own place in concert performance infamy. The Wiltern was the perfect venue to host Sufjan Stevens, providing enough space for the gigantic wall of sound created, but small enough for everyone from the ground floor up to the balcony to feel like they were personally part of something truly special.
It was silly; it was entertaining; it was brilliant.
“Seven Swans” performed the night before at The Wiltern.