At some point, Sufjan Stevens turned into a bona fide neon cult leader. Last night at the magical forest that is the Prospect Park Bandshell, he held a rally in the form of a concert, and the rain-soaked audience willfully held on to his every word. The formerly-folk-but-now-electro singer entranced the crowded venue with his proclamations of cosmic togetherness (“This song doesn’t belong to me, it belongs to the world.”), interesting dance moves (Think of a very drunk person trying to Dougie.) and, of course, some glow-y and idiosyncratic costumes. Stevens called it his “space prom,” but it was more like a rave, full of blasting glitch-pop mixed in with some awkwardly timed yet well-received folk from his past.
The setlist favored Stevens’ most recent release, the change-of-pace Age Of Adz. In fact, of the 14-song set, nine were from that album. The songs translated easily to the live setting, despite the ridiculously complex compositions that Stevens has imposed on his band. Some of the highlights from those nine songs were “Now That I’m Older,” which stands out simply because Stevens forgot an entire verse and sheepishly apologized for it after the song; “I Want To Be Well,” the first song to get the crowd going, as he went into the now iconic “I’m not fucking around!” segment; and the gorgeous album opener, “Futile Devices,” which was the only Age Of Adz song to showcase Stevens’ power as a solo artist, as he stepped up to the front of the stage with just an acoustic guitar.
The more interesting parts of the pre-encore set were the songs that were derived from other releases. Wisely, Stevens chose to start the set with the majestic “Seven Swans,” which reached possible early-peak status when his costume gained some archangel-like wings. The other non-Adz song was “Enchanting Ghost,” from last year’s excellent All Delighted People EP, a beautiful acoustic song that made one girl in the audience standing near me break down in tears.
“Impossible Soul,” the epic closer from Age Of Adz, deserves its own paragraph. A 25-minute epic of daunting proportions, the onstage collective nailed it. Featuring many costume changes and even a set change, it was an interesting endeavor—and that was before the last part. As the song passed its awkward Auto-Tuned portion (which Stevens committed to by wearing a robot helmet that looked like a cocoon) and moved into its new-wave pop (“Boy, we can do much more together!”), beach balls were thrown into the crowd, giant inflatable tube men sprung up and (my personal favorite) Stevens appeared as a Christmas tree piñata. It was the type of ridiculousness that one would have never associated with Sufjan Stevens, folk artist, but he pulled it off with his sincerity and self-awareness.
The encore was more traditional, as the man came out to play “Concerning The UFO” from Illinois on the piano, before segueing into the surprising yet very welcomed “Dress Looks Nice On You” from Seven Swans. Then came the epic finale, the song everyone knows and (judging by the reaction) loves, “Chicago.” As if the song itself weren’t epic enough (it is), this version came with room-sized beach balls being added to the mess in the crowd, and what a beautiful mess it was. As the soaked crowd fought the balls and their own emotions, Stevens climbed on top of the piano, a leader surveying his people, leading them in one last chant of “Ohhhhh” as the rain continued to beat down on them. Wet, exhausted, beat up, with possible ball-induced concussions, we all sang along.
All photos by Elize Strydom
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