I can hardly think of anything more joyful than dancing in a downpour of balloons in a beautiful old theater. Similarly, I can hardly think of a more joyful backdrop to this scene than Sufjan Stevens. The night ended with people kicking and tossing multiple-colored balloons into the air, the firework-like sound of several rabble rousers frantically popping them and hundreds of voices collectively repeating “All things go.” It was like the feeling of standing in the middle a casino floor – the euphoric chiming and colors and bright lights and the prospect that something great may be just ahead in your future.
The night was made up of a set of mostly material from the new LP The Age of Adz, Deborah Johnson’s projections of artist Royal Robertson’s drawings, neon body paint and some serious choreographed dancing. I had no idea Suf had these kinda of moves, but it was like some kind if futuristic soulful vogueing as he belted out tunes. The crowd welcomed the band back home to New York City and they seemed equally appreciative of this and gave a show that has been road-tested and perfected.
“This song is like Avatar meets Cats in ice,” he said before launching into “Too Much.” the 12-piece backing band exploded into a blast of electronic beats and buzz along with both woodwind and brass sections and a three-member fly girl crew – everyone decked out in bright colors, glitter, neon paint and smiles.
When segueing into a slowed down acoustic number Sufjan would move his mic stand further up the stage. He said it was to “come to the people.” with the stage lights up and the audible sounds of his fingers pressing against strings, it really did turn the huge Beacon Theater into a much more intimate gathering. And when he sang “I never meant to be a pest to anyone this time/no I only meant to be a friend to everyone this time,” in the song “Heirloom,” I doubt there was a person in the house who couldn’t relate to that sentiment.
Sufjan explained both the inspiration for the song “Get Real, Get Right,” and the source of much of the show’s visual artwork in a brief art history lesson on Royal Robertson. The prophetic, paranoid artist and sign-maker who made strange colorful drawings and paintings were an inspiration for Stevens’ whole new approach to song writing on The Age of Adz, responsible for the shift from guitar and banjo singer/songwriter to a sonic sculptor building sounds atop one another. It’s hard to hear a description like this and not draw the comparison to the synesthetic Beach Boy Brian Wilson, who said he could see the shapes of songs and tried to shape them physically.
This shaping of music into a physical object was never more apparent than in the 30-minute power jam “Impossible Soul.” It was cathartic and therapeutic. Beach balls were thrown into the audience. Everyone rose from their seats to dance in the Beacon’s aisles. A spaceship descended from the rafters. Costume changes occurred IN THE MIDDLE OF THE SONG. The autotuned and orchestrated piece could mot be pulled off by most people. It is clear that Sufjan is just better at this than most people. Not I’m a bragging, or egotistical way. But in a way that suggests this is a compulsion – something he needs to do rather than something he seeks approval for. And the results are absolutely beautiful.
Check out these videos from last night.
part of “Too Much”