By Alex Wood | Videos: seijinlee
Much like his albums, every Sufjan Stevens tour changes dramatically, showcasing a different side of the complex and endlessly evolving songwriter. Though known best for the intricate, dense layering of instruments and melodies on albums like Illinois, his Chicago Theatre performance boasted a more stripped-down, minimal sound, tomatch the tone of his newest record, Carrie & Lowell.
With help from his four-piece backing band, Stevens played an ethereal set that straddled every direction he ever pursued in his music.
Opener “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” set the tone, the somber, spacious instrumental filling the theatre with an emotional charge before becoming “Death With Dignity,” Stevens beginning the finger-picked ballad alone before the band slowly joined with harmonies and piano.
Nearly every song transitioned into the next, often utilizing long, ambient, droning passages, helping to maintain the set’s consistent tone.
“Should Have Known Better” introduced an important electric aspect to the show, a deliberately electronic beat entering atop the folk-ballad, the song building constantly to its end, layer by layer. “Drawn To The Blood” again used keyboards, long notes creating an atmospheric ending.
Long, thin screens hung behind the band with videos and images evoking specific times or places, be it childhood or natural habitats, perfectly complimenting the profound songs.
“All Of Me Wants All Of You” picked up the pace with its funky, electronic beat, Stevens leaning over a laptop as band members produced
a fake-brass synthesizer melody in the song’s climax.
Stevens performed “John My Beloved” on piano, his vocals drenched in delay effects. Each texture in the song felt deliberate, Stevens’ ability to create such a mood the highlight of his most recent work. Similarly conscious were the haunting female harmonies of “No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross.”
“In The Devil’s Territory” found the band performing thick, folk-rock vocal harmonies, while “Futile Devices” switched to an ambient, electronic style.
“Sister,” a highlight of the evening, featured a mellow guitar-based jam, a clean, electric solo and spacious backing evoking Grateful Dead, an unexpected but surprisingly appropriate style to enter the set.
The set finished massively with “Blue Bucket Of Gold.” Disco balls dropped from the ceiling, the plethora of stage lights bouncing incessantly off the spinning mirrors, the lengthy song an endless build of electronic noise. The theater seemed to physically shake by the end of the song’s noisy climax, synthesizers and laptops contributing deafening layers of effects.
Stevens waited until the encore to perform anything from fan-favorite album Illinois, a deliberate choice to highlight his new material first.
As he struck the opening chords of “Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois,” the crowd erupted in applause. The song was followed by a shaky tour debut of “Casimir Pulaski Day,” Stevens stopping multiple times throughout to remember lyrics or chords. Though not a prime performance of the track, the errors were handled with a charming and apologetic nature, the audience laughing and applauding the errors.
“The Dress Looks Nice On You” offered an intimate classic, while the nearly obligatory “Chicago” closed the set with energy, the audience standing and singing along as the small band used keyboards and trumpet to fill in the studio version’s many backing melodies.
In the end, the set featured the precise sound that Stevens has created at this specific point in his career. A focus on texture and tone created an ethereal, atmospheric and otherworldly ambiance that Stevens successfully honed, the instrumentals never interfering with the songwriting at its base.
Regardless what direction Stevens heads next, it’s safe to say it won’t disappoint
1. Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
2. Death With Dignity
3. Should Have Known Better
4. Drawn To The Blood
5. All Of Me Wants All Of You
7. John My Beloved
8. The Only Thing
9. Fourth Of July
10. No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross
11. Carrie & Lowell
12. The Owl And The Tanager
13. In The Devil’s Territory
14. Futile Devices
16. Blue Bucket Of Gold
17. Concerning The UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
18. Casimir Pulaski Day
19. The Dress Looks Nice On You