October 21, 2010
Better Than: The times my parents would drag me to McFarlin Auditorium to watch ballet.
|Sufjan Stevens. For a full slideshow from this performance, click here.|
Sufjan Stevens had his work cut out for him on Wednesday night at SMU's McFarlin Auditorium: He had the daunting task of convincing everyone in the room--himself included--that he's more than just a guy with a banjo and some folk songs.
The direction that his music has taken on his new album, The Age Of Adz
, is shockingly different from his previous soft spoken, folk-driven efforts. It finds Stevens sharing hip-hop/electronic-based songs about heartache, recovery, and the apocalypse where happy songs about Midwestern states used to be.
And while this live performance probably made Steven's new musical direction more feasible to fans who were still on the fence, it also exposed some of its faults.
This much is for certain, though: These new songs aren't easy
to play--at least not according to the look on Stevens' face for most of
the show. At this point in his career, his body of work is quite
extensive, and there were a few times when he stumbled over lyrics,
guitar chords, and melodies.
But with the help of his expert 11-piece
backing band, which included two drummers and a trombone section, those
moments were hardly noticeable.
On full display was the grandeur of his song arrangements, the
dynamics of which ranged from whisper soft to thundering loud. One
moment, Stevens would lightly pluck the strings on an acoustic guitar,
and the next he would dance to a synthed-out break beat. He
made light of the variety, too, describing it as "Andrew Lloyd Webber meets
Grease meets Tron meets Sesame Street--fun for the whole family."
But not everything went over without a hitch.
got a little indulgent. The new tracks featured polyrhythms, key
changes, halfway-choreographed dance moves, all of which hung like
ornaments on an over-decorated Christmas tree. Thankfully, those moments came and went quickly, as Stevens was
concentrated on singing and playing every note perfectly.
of the show included "Seven Swans," the first song of the concert and
the only one that featured Stevens with a banjo. On "Too Much," one of The Age Of Adz
early singles, the band was tight as they mixed in heavy electronics
with rich orchestration. "Impossible Soul," the show's epic 25-minute
apocalyptic climax, ended as Stevens won the crowd over by doing an
awesome in-the-moment freestyle dance on the stage's catwalk while
singing through a vocoder.
With this, Stevens had made believers out of nearly everyone in the
audience. And he came back out for a crowd-pleasing encore of favorites
from Illinois and Seven Swans. A beautiful rendition of
"Casimir Pulaski Day" led into "The Dress Looks Nice On You," which
ended the concert and sent everyone home satisfied.
I've heard great things about seeing Sufjan Stevens in concert. Can't
say that I was blown away by the entire thing, but there were definitely
some beautiful moments amidst the chaos.
Random Sidenote: As expected at a seated show, there's always going to be that guy who accidentally skipped ahead 20 rows and has landed squarely in your seat.
By The Way: There needs to be more concerts at McFarlin Auditorium. It's a great place to see a show.