Sufjan Stevens at the Paramount, 11/2/10
With DM Stith
11.2.10 | Paramount Theatre
"I'm high," someone near me whispered with a wink just before the lights went down and Sufjan Stevens's band of black v-neck-T-shirted accompanists started tuning their instruments together in a cacophony of sound. About three songs into the set, when we started tumbling down a yellow-brick spiral staircase projected on a massive screen behind the band, I wished that I were high, too.
Britt Chester DM Stith
The cult of Sufjan Stevens includes DM Stith, a member of Stevens's Asthmatic Kitty label, and the opening act, which set the mood with a short, intense set. Lilting acoustic harmonies provided a backdrop for Stith's voice, floating softly over his lyrics like a feather caught in the wind. It was very much in the same musical vein as the main event, and so, for the most part, crowd-pleasing. Stith didn't just open, though: He stayed on as a very engaged member of Stevens's band, dancing uninhibitedly as he played the piano for the headlining set.
That set started not even half an hour later, when white lights went up on Sufjan Stevens, who stood front and center donning silver pants and feathered angel wings, with his band fading into the shadows and the crowd falling utterly silent as he plucked the banjo intently. "We didn't sleep too late," he sang softly, the first lyrics of "Seven Swans." Few artists command attention like this one, his compelling voice, wandering storylines and pregnant timing building anticipation and rendering silence for fear you'll miss something. In those moments, it's as if no one but Stevens exists.
The band joined in fiercely for the bridge before fading into the background again, then returned for the climax, stage lights illuminating a group of musicians wearing props -- one in a funny hat, another in a pair of giant sunglasses, a couple of dancers in dresses that could have been inspired by renderings of Judy Jetson.
"I'm Sufjan Stevens, and I'll be your entertainment for the evening," he said as applause and cheers punctuated the song. The crowd laughed easily, and after that warmup, Stevens ditched the angel wings and moved on to "Too Much," a synthy glam-pop number that aroused a sudden desire to cannonball into a pool -- or at least get up and dance instead of sitting in a seat at the Paramount.
Stevens built his following on spellbinding acoustic harmonies, albums that told stories replete with spiritual themes, music that made you work a little, listening over and over until you got it. On stage last night, he told us he'd wanted to create something that came from the affectation of sound rather than his characteristic narrative. To write from raw emotion. To have an adolescence.
And so he released The Age of Adz in the middle of October, a frenetic collection that substitutes the synthesizer for the symphony of acoustic instruments employed in the albums that went before it. Stevens brought The Age of Adz to life on stage last night, a similarly adolescent experiment with costume changes, choreographed dance routines, disharmonic jams and abstract art. It was a struggle to come of age that we watched, bound to our seats in a gilded concert hall, as the band bounced around on stage.