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The Blue & Gray Press | May 25, 2018

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Sufjan Stevens Plays a Cosmically-Charged, Incredible Show

By EMILY MONTGOMERY

“The theme of tonight is outer space,” Sufjan Stevens announced to the crowd near the beginning of his November 9 concert at the National in Richmond, and the stage showed it.

Stevens, along with the various members of his band, was wearing a space-themed costume he had decorated himself with glow-in-the-dark strips in a pattern similar to Native American war paint. A large screen on the wall behind them displayed constellations, among other images.

Immediately, I knew that this concert was unlike any other I had ever been to.

I had come with high expectations. A photograph of a winged banjo-picking Stevens has hung in my room for years. His song “Chicago” was the soundtrack of my high school life and the subject of my college application essay.

Still, he somehow managed to put on a show better even than I could have hoped for.

The National was sold-out for the Tuesday night show and the crowd displayed a perfect mix of utmost respect and excited energy.

Stevens danced during many of his songs using hand motions reminiscent of airplane traffic controllers. He changed costumes a few times, donning a light up visor and metallic pants at points. The rest of his band, which varied in number depending on the song but usually consisted of about eight people, was dressed in equally unique outfits.

Stevens mostly played songs from his newest album, “Age of Adz,” such as “Futile Devices,” “Vesuvius” and the half-hour long “Impossible Soul,” which he described as his “theme song, an exhibition of psychotherapy.” While during many of the songs the audience looked on in awe, they sprung to action and danced along with Sufjan and his back-up dancers during “Impossible Soul.” The energy only increased with the release of confetti and beach balls that the crowd threw around for some time.

Having grown up on “Come on Feel the Illinoise,” I was still learning to love “Age of Adz.” However, hearing it live solidified its beauty for me.

As the show came to an end, Stevens still managed to fit in the songs from “Illinoise” that I most hoped to hear. He closed with “Chicago,” then after much chanting and stomping came back to play a couple other favorites from the earlier album, such as “John Wayne Gacy, Jr” and “Casimir Pulaski Day,” which helped appease fans like me who still clung to that album.

Most everyone I talked to also thought that the concert was incredible.

VCU junior Chelsea Rapanick enjoyed the fact that it was much more over the top than she expected.
“His new stuff surprised me,” VCU freshman Josh Young agreed, adding that he also thought it was great.

Not all were impressed, though.

“He broke my heart,” Shaden Dowlatt, a D.C. resident, said. She was hoping Stevens would play more of his older songs.