It is always a pleasant surprise
when an artist visits Indianapolis without just skipping on over to the more
accessible Chicago. The very articulate Sufjan Stevens entertained a sold-out
crowd at the Murat Egyptian Room on Saturday night with a generous reaction
from the crowd. As soon as Stevens took the stage it was apparent that he
considers himself an entertainer, and he takes himself seriously as an artist.
The show began with opening act My Brightest Diamond, aka Shara Worden, who
has been a long-time collaborator and friend of Stevens. I didn't expect too
much from Worden, as I only got a taste for her solo project by listening to a
few tracks off of her debut album Bring Me the Workhorse. My first
impression was comparisons of Kate Bush and Tori Amos, but Worden's live
performance molded her into a special, must-hear new artist. With string
arrangements adding to Worden's captivating vocals, the only thing that took
away from her performance was the radio station that was somehow transmitted
through her amp. Worden made the best of the situation by jokingly dancing to
the radio music and by staying undisturbed and focused during her most intense
Worden's sensibility and playful, dry humor foreshadowed the audience to the
behemoth that is Sufjan Stevens. I really didn't know what to expect this time
around from Stevens. I anticipated a more orchestral performance, and I was
delighted to see a 14-piece band walk onto stage along with Stevens, all
dressed with butterfly wings. The group promptly proceeded into an uproarious
take on "Sister," which led to a crescendo opener. A giant projector screen
behind the band began to play random tranquil images and later, home movies
from Stevens himself. My first thought of this spectacle was a reminiscent
experience watching a middle-school band play with an arts and crafts theme
attached. Most of the violinists, trumpet players, and other members appeared
quite young. The thematic element that Stevens often carries along with his
live performances encompasses a visual of a family or cult-like stage presence
that breathes in vein of Danielson Famile.
After the opener, Stevens modestly greeted the crowd, "Hello, I am Sufjan
Stevens and I am here to entertain you tonight." This quickly dispelled any
arguments anyone had over the pronunciation of his name. Soof-"yawn," as I
like to say, then plucked away on his banjo as he began "The Transfiguration."
This made me excited, anticipating that the show would feature some different
versions of songs from Seven Swans, which was the first album that got
me into his music.
Each song had an exploding intensity that kept everyone locked to their seats.
It was difficult for me to imagine how brilliantly Stevens was able to write
all of the arrangements for each instrument in the performance. In between
each song Stevens would have a monologue with the audience, which varied in
dry humor to the background story of the NPR-inspired "The Lord God Bird"
about a rare woodpecker. Stevens also had beside him a stool with bells that
he would constantly ring during climatic portions of each song as well as a
plastic rooster that Stevens explained they stole from a Perkins restaurant
and named "Hendrico."
Another highlight from the show had to be the new song "Majesty Snowbird,"
where Stevens delivered a chorus with a grand falsetto, and the epic "Seven
Swans." Stevens ended with the obvious but glorious favorite "Chicago."
Stevens swore that was the end of the show after that, but I didn't believe
him for one minute. Yeah, he lied. Steven's returned with a few others to play
"To Be Alone With You" and "The Dress Looks Nice on You."
The whole performance was epic and warm. Although a deaf man may have seen the
show as a goofy, arts and crafts middle school band performance, a blind man
would be able to hear the talent of each every performer of Steven's
self-proclaimed "Butterfly Brigade." Unfortunately, if you are a deaf, blind,
mute midget you really missed out. I formally apologize to my brother. It was
irresponsible for me to bring you to that show for your birthday, Charlie. At
least I enjoyed it.
The Lord God Bird
Dear Mr. Supercomputer
(Short Reprise for Mary Todd...)
Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head
The Predatory Wasp...
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
A Good Man is Hard to Find
Casimir Pulaski Day
To Be Alone With You
The Dress Looks Nice on You
Photo: Denny Renshaw