Sufjan Stevens' Interstellar Trip Through Time and Space at the National
By UPMA KAPOOR
If there is any musical performer that can successfully transform a concert venue into his own fantastical world, it is undoubtedly Sufjan Stevens.
Appearing onstage holding his banjo, wearing angel wings and green tape with a full-fledged band, Stevens took over the National venue in Richmond with “Age of Adz,” an intergalactic, super-sonic universe focused on Stevens’ most recently released opus.
Before diving into this sudden and surprising realm of performance, Stevens opened with a rendition of the 2004 classic, “Seven Swans.” When Sufjan Stevens took the stage strumming his banjo, the audience was immediately absorbed into this surreal and rather rare opportunity to see an eclectic and poetic musician emerge into a soulful, beautiful live performer.
After such an alluring opener, the audience was in awe. Stevens immediately dove into “Too Much”, the second track off of “Age of Adz.” While many may have questioned how Stevens could possibly replicate the elaborate and ornate details of “Age of Adz” live, their concerns disappeared right away after seeing and hearing the collaboration of the instrumental ensemble, back-up vocalists, and the MPC live. The real surprise, however, occurred when Stevens began moving his fingers toward the crowd while singing “Too Much”: Sufjan Stevens was dancing.
As the show progressed, the hand movements suddenly turned into fully choreographed moves with his back-up vocalists. Stevens even mentioned that he wanted to incorporate some “moves” into this tour with the assistance of the choreographer of Fame. As Stevens himself said, “we’re just trying to keep it real.”
In spite of Steven’s imaginative live show, he was indeed “keeping it real”. Stevens confessed in an interview with Exclaim magazine that during the production of Age of Adz, he was struggling with some serious health issues.
The fact that Stevens was forced to abandon musical production temporarily to focus on his critical condition explains why the overall sound of the album, while marvelous, is overflowing with sonic landscapes and otherwise distorted sounds. If anything, Stevens was merely mirroring his uncomfortable and humanely revealing circumstances.
Stevens continued to perform songs from both Age of Adz and his proceeding EP, All Delighted People. The crème de la crème of the show was certainly “Impossible Soul”–the twenty-five minute epic anthem–which he performed in its entirety. While the song still sounds fantastic on the record, it easily has a richer sound live with more depth. In fact, it’s an all-dynamic, energetic heart-wrenching, heart-beating dance number.
What amazed me was that Stevens’ entire ensemble and himself did not seem tired or beat after performing that entire song. To top it off, Stevens performed the ever-popular “Chicago”, turning into the audience gleefully singing along and commanding that “all things go.”
Stevens then decided to close the show with four folk-crowd favorites, including “Casmir Pulaski Day” and “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.” leaving everyone mesmerized under Stevens’ melodically enchanting spell.