sufjan Stevens, Cirque Royal Brussels, may 10th ’11

Sufjan stevens surely is an unpredictable musician. He might probably be known best for excesively orchestrated indie-folk, but the American singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has been playing around with a lot of other genres too through the years. Also unpredictable are his live-shows: the days where he just played his songs on a guitar or banjo have been replaced with big bands and sometimes even orchestras. His most recent album ‘the age of adz’, which came out last year, was based mostly on weird eclectronic beats, sound effects and strange orchestrations, while the folk was driven to a far background on most of the album. And it was this last album that he was touring with when I went to see him in the cirque Royal in Brussels. I was seated very high, which gave a good view on the things that were happening on stage, and the sound was very good. I had no idea what I had to expect, but I knew it was going to be something special…

The opening act was some guy called DM Stith, a man with a pretty good voice, and acoustic guitar and an occasional loopstation. He was already playing while we were arriving, so I can’t say much about his set, except for that the last songs sounded really okay.

And then he’s there: Sufjan stevens. Starting with  ‘seven swans‘ without any announcment, and in a completely new arrangement. From the fiest seconds it’s clear that something has changed. Even his first song alone, impressive both visually and musically, would’ve been worth coming. Sufjan and his banjo get accompagnied by 10 other musicians and even more instruments, alienating costumes, projections and other things. The dynamics between the hard and the quiet parts are incredible, just like the costumes and choreography, which happens to include big swan wings in the first song. We also note two drummers (!) one at each sside of the stage, two female singers who also do a lot of dancing, and a lot of electronics and brass. It’s only the banjo, usually omnipresent in a Sufjan set, that dissapears almost completely out of sight after the first song…

Sufan then leads his gang of weirdos through a set consisting completely of new material from the second one on. More than his usual folk we hear space-music and electronic symponic pop, in a spectacular happening of more than 2 hours. I remember ‘too much’, with strange beats in 7/8 and heavy orchestration, the title song ‘the age of adz’, the quiet and beautiful ‘the owl and the tanager‘ on the piano, played very impressively, a very strong ‘Vesuvius‘ with apocalyptic projections, and a beautiful ‘futile devices‘ with strange solo at the end. I could say that all songs are really strong, not just musically, but also visually, with a lot of variation; weird costumes that get even weirder and more psychedelic in blacklight, strange projections, and a bizarre choreography… sufjan also introduces …; an outider artists on whose paintigs Sufjan based much of the album, which is a good explanation for the near schizofrenic psychedelics of this concert…

The ‘opus magnum’ of the evening is a thundering ‘impossible soul’ of more than 20 minutes; Interstellar pop music, weird instrumental passages, heavy electronic percussion played live by the 2 drummers, and some really cachy poppy dance parts even (that vocoder…) with Sufjan in a strange impressive suit with wings, and hundreds of balloons falling from the roof in one of the climaxes. When the band fades out sufjan takes his acoustic guitar to conclude the song. and then the musicians leave the stage. They have given all…

… And still five minutes later they come back again, after a change to more casual clothing, to play an encore set of older songs. A clearly exhausted sufjan takes a seat behind the piano for a solo version of ‘concerning the UFO sighting‘, to a beautiful ‘Casimir Pulaski day‘ (hey, the banjo is back in the background!) and finally everything goes loose again with ‘Chicago’. The angelic sounds of the outro fade out and there’s one things for sure: This was not just a concert!

(links are youtube videos uploaded by other people taken from the audience. The quality isn’t always that good, but it’s enough to have an taste of the evening….)

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