CONCERT: Sufjan Stevens at the Buskirk-Chumley

IMG_2366To say that I was excited for this show would be an understatement. In the weeks leading up to it I pulled all of Sufjan’s records out and fell in love again. I laid on the carpet and read the lyrics along to Michigan and Illinoise (and realized that it’d been too long since I’d done that with any record), fell asleep listening to Seven Swans, and finally really fell for The Avalanche. It was a pretty rapturous couple weeks, and I’m not going to lie, I was pretty giddy the night or two before the show. Dork. I know.

Well the night came, and we made our way down to Bloomington for the first time since moving out here, and found the Buskirk-Chumley Theater (which is a pretty great little venue). The house was full, but the crowd was hospitable, and the show was fantastic.IMG_2358

The talk about this tour has all been centered around Sufjan’s new material, and we were some of the lucky people who got to hear a bit of it. You’ve probably heard about it already – it’s spacey, it’s electronic, it’s grand, it’s strange, it’s post-whatever, but most importantly, it’s still Sufjan. That probably sounds a little hokey – but let me explain. Despite his enormous talent, Sufjan’s music has always sounded like the music of the everyman to me. When I hear it I’m immediately transported to the homes of the people I met and lived with in West Virginia and rural southern Ohio. Somehow he captures the earnestness, optimism, and quiet sadness of so many people I’ve met in the down-trodden parts of the country, and adorns it with a kind of antiquated glow with all his flutes and bells and banjos – a glow that reminds me of all the patterned-wallpapered living rooms and quaint trailer gardens I’ve been in. For that alone, I think I’ll always love Sufjan’s music. So with everything being written about his turn to these “electro-jazz-epics”, I was a little… not concerned… but interested to see if he still had that glow that I loved.

I’m happy to say that the new songs do have that glow, and although they are stylistically a bit of a step beyond Michigan‘s quiet ruminations or Illinoise‘s orchestral panoramas, they are colored with the same kinds of thoughtful observations, beliefs and emotions. All the swells and harmonies that make Sufjan’s music so compelling are still there, and may even be a little more stirring with his newly expanded stylistic palette. I know I felt like I couldn’t breathe out the entire set, and there were more than a few times when my wife and I mouthed silent exclamations to each other. It was pretty, well, awesome.

Here’s the setlist, along with a video of one of my favorites of the new songs, a re-worked “Majesty Snowbird” (from the Castaways show in NY):

The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself)

Impossible Soul**

Jacksonville

All Delighted People**

All The Trees of the Field Will Clap Their Hands

Casimir Pulaski Day

Age of Adz**

Majesty Snowbird**

Chicago

Encore:

John Wayne Gacy, Jr.

To Be Alone With You

**new songs

My only downer of the night was that we didn’t get to hear “There’s Too Much Love” (another new song) as a closer. But really, that’s a pretty small complaint after an otherwise perfect night. Chalk this show up as one of the reasons that I love music.

mp3: Sufjan Stevens – The Mistress Witch from McClure (or, The Mind That Knows Itself)
from the album The Avalanche (iTunes)

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