Where to even start?! I guess I should start with my expectations of Mr. Stevens and how Monday night threw all that out the window. I've never seen Sufjan Stevens live before, but I own just about everything he has produced. In this house is a copy of "Come On, Feel the Illinois" that features Super Man on the cover of the cd. It was instantly removed for copyright infringement and requested a recall on those that were already printed, but somehow my copy didn't make it back..oops!
When telling friends and coworkers about the upcoming show, it was hard to pinpoint or describe this musician in just a sentence. The best connection I could make was asking if they had seen "Little Miss Sunshine." The song "Chicago" is much more popular then the man who wrote it. He is a conceptual musician that researches his subject thoroughly and the results are lengthy love songs about the subject that includes Michigan, Illinois, Christianity, Christmas spirit, and now future prophecy aliens?! Not knowing much about Sufjan Stevens, just seeing that list alone, you know the latter subject is off the beaten path. Past albums are more acoustic, introverted, and peaceful. Instrumentally, Sujfan mostly armed himself with a banjo accompanied by some strings, and piano. Building at times to a grand crescendo, but mostly telling a story at a whispered tone. The perfect tone for a fall night at the Beacon, I thought.
So now onto what I witnessed! Let's start with my trip to NYC, because my stories can't be too focused on one point...The Long Island Railroad has always been the go-to for trips to NYC. It's easy, just sit back and let the train do all the work. The Hicksville stop has managed to complicate this simple process. There was nowhere to park my little black Kia without a threat of towing. Drove around for a half hour and a three block radius to find a spot to park overnight, and there was nothing. Commuters have first dibs and it was all monthly parking. No room for new comers or anyone just needing one night. Lame. So we decided to just go for it and drive into the city. Now, this time last year if you had requested that I drive you into the city I'd think you were batty! But with the new job I drive into the city at least a couple times a month. And I am not just talking Brooklyn, people. I am in Manhattan and at times blocks away from Times Square. Not too shabby for a small town Mid west girl who was too scared to drive in high school (long story, people). Finding a 24 hour parking lot wasn't too tough. Made me smile to see my Rio parked alongside Mercedes, BMW's and other treasured cars staying there for a longer time then us. Oh well.
The Beacon is, I believe, on the Upper West side of Manhattan not too far from Central Park. Dinner was a must before the show. So a friend took us to a Mexican joint called Harry's Burrito. Typical New York City restaurant, small, but packed. Food wise, salsa was awesome! Fresh and more along the lines of a pico which is more up my ally. But some how, they managed to mess up my goat cheese artichoke quesadilla. They added rice to it, which was terribly undercooked. I find something as simple as undercooked rice being missed by the chef says a lot. My glass of melbec from Argentina was nice though and well priced. All the drinks there were fairly priced.
Which brings me to the Beacon..Making a night of the theatre show, I wanted a drink to go along with Sufjan's set. The bar was well stocked with many options, but right off the bat I just wanted a Bailey's on the rocks. The bartender poured less then a shots worth into my glass and he must of noted my look of disappointment and asked me if I wanted to make it a double. Sure, its a special night and I don't plan on coming back to the bar so why not. It was the best $18.00 drink I've ever had and I am sticking to that, gawd!
The Beacon is beautiful. According to Sufjan himself, it was redone about 3 years ago and its a grand upgrade. I think he called it skanky before the upgrade. It was very ornate and Grecian. Gold and red velvet layered the stage and they even threw in a large spear sticking out above the first few rows. Here's a shot from the Internet. My camera has died so I am going to rip off a lot of shots..sorry.
Nice, right? Not really a bad seat in the house. We all had a great view and I was happy to have a designated seat. I can't remember if I have noted this before, but I am truly over general admission and may never go back. I am short and have little patience for strangers entering my personal space.
Ok, now back to the show. We missed all four songs of the opener, DM Stitch. How New Yorker of us! We did manage to catch the last few notes of his last song. He is a member of Sufjan's band so we got to see him in action a bit later. From what I gathered it was more of what I expect from a Sufjan show. A man and his guitar commanding the audience. He looped the song we heard, and I can't get enough of looping. I just think its straight up cool and can't be easy to master even though the idea is simple. Arcade Fire had a band member open their set awhile back and he looped his songs as well. Nothing new, but still a cool thing.
It didn't take long for Sufjan's band to take the stage. He opened with "Seven Swans." It starts out with Sufjan's whispering voice and his banjo. Then it builds into a apocalyptic rush to go with the song's lyrics. Off to an excellent start. But from there we really wouldn't hear much from the past albums. Sufjan is sticking with his 2010 stuff off "All Delighted People" and "Age of Adz." With that comes the costumes to match the futuristic alien theme and sweet dance moves. The costumes were very much aliens meet American Apparel if American Apparel started in the 80's. "Too Much" is a perfect starter to ease you into the theme. Poppy and dance-tastic, Sufjan and his background lady singers introduced you to what was in store for the rest of the night. Their dance moves are flawed and a bit off which makes it charming. My favorite move is Sufjan's hand drawing a square that leads into a pelvic dip. I have highlighted a few of the songs so be sure to click on them to check out these moves!
It should be noted that I found Sufjan Stevens quite charismatic. He often engaged the audience with akward banter including a story about his grandpa that had the ability to shoot lightening from his hands and feet and therefore couldn't wear shoes. There was no hint of slurred speech that comes from an intoxicated or medicated person, so I found the stories more of the character he was playing then that of a rockstar. Remember how I mentioned that Sufjan researches his muses to the full extent? This new album was no exception. The Age of Adz is inspired by a Lousiana artist named Prophet Royale Robertson. The subject painted what he foresaw as the future and the end of man and the rise of aliens. Robertson ended up alone and skitzo and it's evident in the art he produced. The song "Get Real" was dedicated to Robertson. A song about being a part of Robertson's family and how difficult it was to see a man fall apart in front of them. Sufjan relates to Robertson in "Vesuvius." He confesses to the audience that he is scared of heights and enclosed spaces and works through these fears by jumping into a volcano. A screen comes over the stage and lava slowly comes over the band as the song builds.
The set was nicely peppered with a few solo songs so that Sufjan's band mates could rest after a couple of songs were certainly a work out. Case in point, the epic "All Delighted People." This song is very much like a theatre show within itself. Sometimes quiet, sometimes choir like, and definitely a workout for the band. With two drum sets and a brass backing, the 11 minute plus song was played in it's entirety. Sufjan claimed they don't play it much because it "wrecks" the band and we the audience certainly agreed after watching it. Hard to believe it was just the middle of the set. But this song was nothing compared to the last song before the encore. "Impossible Soul" stole the show. Nothing new to what I've seen before, with balloons, disco balls, lights, and beach balls. It was like Flaming Lips meets Brooklyn Hipsters. But the energy is undeniable! On first hearing of "Age of Adz" and not knowing its logic, its hard to know where Sufjan was going with it, but seeing the show, it's most obvious.
To call this song epic is a bit of an understatement. The band pulled out all the stops for over 25 minutes! In comparison to the night before, the second night's audience ate it up. The orchestra level were treated to glitter the first night, but the second got balloons and more energy. It being the last night of the whole tour, the band gave it their all to celebrate the end. The audience was clearly grateful getting out of their seats and dancing just as oddly as the band. Now, I know what you are thinking "25 minutes is a bit much!" But really, with the energy of the band and the quality of sound from the venue plus the audience participation those minutes flew by. The Beacon loves bass. We could feel it as literally as we were hearing it..pretty cool stuff!
No need for an encore, but Sufjan's band did give us a nice rendition of "Chicago" for good measure. This show was genuinely one of the best I have seen ever. This is saying a lot since I have seen Pavement reunite, Atoms for Peace play once in a lifetime, and Arcade Fire rock MSG for the first time. It was a night where everything aligned and made a magical show. Sufjan's band was technically tight and his voice was flawless even as he went all out on the dance moves. The Beacon hosts an incredible sound and the upper east side of New York is effortlessly cool. There's not much better in life for me then leaving a show and knowing that you had seen something very special! As per usual, I leave you with the setlist below..
Age of Adz
The Owl and The Tanager
All Delighted People
I Want To Be Well