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Concert Thu Oct 21 2010

Review: Sufjan Stevens @ The Chicago Theater 10/15

This story was submitted by freelance writer Mia DiMeo, who writes for Art Slant Chicago.

Midway through his almost two hour set at the Chicago Theater, Sufjan Stevens paused to apologize to the sold out crowd for any bewilderment concerning the lack of banjo on his new album, The Age of Adz. Five years since the release of the folk-orchestral masterwork, Sufjan Stevens Invites You To: Come on and Feel the Illinoise, there have been mixed feelings, understandably, about Stevens' latest portrait of Americana, that, on Friday night came complete with Auto-tune, a laser light show, and backup dancers dressed in gold lamé.

Stevens' fragile falsetto and skeletal plucks began the show with the haunting intro to "Seven Swans," the quiet prologue to the apocalyptic dance party to come. Under red lights, the band thundered into the song, as Stevens sang his way into the new material with the old favorite and a serious intensity, "If you run/He will chase you/'cause He is the Lord."

Spirituality isn't uncharted territory for Stevens, and neither are synthesizers. Live, it is clear he is just building on the bleeps and glitches in 2001's, Enjoy Your Rabbit with a seasoned sophistication that is closer to the epic nature of Illinoise.

In Stevens' earnest monologue to the audience, he cited The Age of Adz as an exploration into the mind, love, and the cosmos inspired by outsider artist Royal Robertson (1930-1997). A conspiracy theorist and self-proclaimed prophet, Robertson preferred to be addressed as "Libra Patriarch Prophet Lord Archbishop Apostle Visionary Mystic Psychic Saint Royal Robertson."

Stevens forces some parallels with the schizophrenic artist and his own struggles. Speaking about the act of creating art as primitive and instinctual, bordering on psychological madness. Addressing the audience about his intentions, he came off more endearing than cheesy, and it clarified some self-encouraging lyrics from the song "Vesuvius," where Stevens sang to himself behind a light show of volcanic fire, "Sufjan/ Follow your heart/ Follow the flame or fall on the floor".

The massively talented band highlighted Stevens' skill at creating dramatic compositions with huge crescendos that make a song feel like a journey, and album like a lifetime. This helped balance the kitsch of the evening. Projections of flying cars, spaceships, and ominous signs of the Last Judgment taken from Robertson's paintings were spliced and animated to the music, the back up singers had choreographed moves and occasionally wore sunglasses, a tent-like structure was lowered over them at one point, to show their dance moves in silhouette. The whole thing felt like a cross between an art installation and a sci-fi rock opera.

"Too much", although catchy as hell, felt out of place at the beginning of the night. The stiff, seated audience was shell shocked, wondering what happened to the Stevens they used to know. By the end of the night, when Stevens played the 25 minute long, multi-part "Impossible Soul," people got out of their seats to dance. The chanting chorus (there's probably a remix in the works) and a brief reference to the Salt-N-Peppa's song, "Push it" proved that even folk singers want to play dance music sometimes.

"Chicago" came at the end of the set, completely satisfying and anthemic, given the setting. Stevens returned for a stripped down encore, more from Illinoise, including a wobbly version of "Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother!" and the sweet, melancholy "Casimir Pulaski Day". Stevens may have unintentionally obliterated the jaunt that was Adz by ending with "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.", almost whispering, "look beneath the floor boards/ For the secrets I have hid," but the musical ambitiousness and emotional range he showed in one evening make it difficult not to respect him, with or without a banjo.

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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