Live: Sufjan Stevens Soothes An Unsettled Bowery Ballroom


Sufjan Stevens
Bowery Ballroom
Monday, October 5

Chippy night down at the ol’ Bowery. Heading downstairs we pass a heated argument between two hungry patrons and a bouncer defending the club’s “all exits are final” policy. The men’s bathroom is briefly closed due to unfortunate leakage; “hold it,” my companion is advised. Upstairs, I mention we’re missing the big Packers-Vikings game and am immediately shushed by the dude next to us, who plans to watch later and doesn’t want it spoiled. Bring on the soothing banjos.

By available evidence Sufjan’s next album may be his own version of Joanna Newsom’s Ys: super-long, knotty, furtive, lyrically ornate epics conceived more as mini-symphonies than mere songs. Each one cycles through several moods: soft twee elegies, atonal horn-saturated freakouts, coed choral yelping (the Dirty Projectors own him in this regard these days). He starts out tonight with an eight-person entourage, which seems a little reserved, but ah, here’s a few more horns to really fill it out. At least they’re no longer wearing cheerleader outfits.

As he’s easily the most whimsical maximalist going, it’s still too easy to find this all terribly cloying, but you come to love that banjo, those blooping keyboards, them French horns. His melodies, which can now take several minutes and dozens of measures to fully unfold, are still improbably beautiful, and scraps of the new stuff connect — “Don’t be distracted,” he repeatedly harmonizes with Nedelle (she of terminally cloying opening act Cryptacize) at the conclusion of “Impossible Soul.” And his deadpan awkwardness is still lots of fun. After meandering through “Oh Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head,” there is the following exchange:

SUFJAN: “I know it’s a long song, with a lot of weird white West Coast jazz, but I feel like that’s what Detroit needs right now.”

DUDE IN CROWD: “Go Tigers!”

SUFJAN: [Weakly] “Go Tigers.”

In other news, “Casimir Pulaski Day” still makes me cry, so.