JAM Magazine Concert Reviews

May 10, 2015
Majestic Theater
Dallas, TX USA
Review by Nolan Smith
Photos by Paul Wilkins

Sufjan Stevens

Magic At The Majestic

The enigma that is Sufjan Stevens played before a packed house at the beautiful Majestic Theater in Dallas on Sunday the 10th. One of the hardest things about being a fan of Sufjan Stevens is trying to describe to friends what he "sounds like." Always challenging the status quo, Stevens continually reinvents himself and more often than not introduces us to new musical stylings in nearly every album he makes. Folk, Gospel, Bluegrass, Singer Songwriter, Acoustic Café, College, New Wave, Alternative, Adult Contemporary, Spoken Word, Electonica, etc. could all be genres to describe his work thus far.

The concert comes to life slowly as the band began playing in pitch dark. In harmonics and singing filling the venue with sound and beauful music for what felt like a 5 minute well played orchestrated instrumental that invokes the heart, soul and mind. Less poetically, think of Sigur Ros. It was a perfect prelude to what would start as a slow and emotional road through some of the old and new songs from Sufjan's new album titled Carrie & Lowell. Those familiar with the more acoustic and banjo stylings of Sufjan will be happy to know that this is the direction of the album, bringing fans back from the "Age of ADZ" that lost some fans while bringing a new fold of followers into the mix.

The simple yet powerful backgrounds or images that played behind the 5 piece band gave you a feeling of which albums and what emotions he was playing on for each song. Some had church windows with tranquil images, others had windows with videos of old homemade videos, and yet some were played to some of the most elaborate and well build light and laser shows I've ever been privy to. Strobe lights, light beams and spot lights crossed the audience and enveloped the theater in light and bombastic sound pulling everyone into the intimate nature of the concert. As always and without disappointment Stevens once again proves his versatility across all platforms.

The band featuring backup vocals by opener Dawn Lewis were beautiful, and beyond reproach. Her voice tied wonderfully to Sufjan's and blended well with the rest of the artists singing in chorus. The instrumentation was precise and sounded even better than the albums. I couldn't have been more pleased with the performance as a whole. The entire band including Sufjan showed off their musical prowess by playing multiple instruments and rotating on stage like a volleyball team does after change of serve.

Midway through the set Sufjan told a long and very revealing set of stories regarding his childhood upbringing. He spoke of his great grandmother who passed away while he was 7 years old being his first experience with death. His family had a rather direct and somewhat morbid way of trying to aide in the grieving process. They bought him poems by Sylvia Plath and the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The second was an albino rat he owned named Mister Bossy Pants; who after 6 months was riddled with tumors, went to the vet and was told he needed to be put to sleep. His father, who thought better of spending the money on euthanizing the rat, put the mouse in a coffee can and then hit it with a baseball bat. The message his father gave him was "life sucks and then you die," then followed it by making him watch Bambi in the scene where Bambi's mother dies.

Death was also something to confront and deal with directly in his family. The stories ended with a story of his friend Opie who fell into the river, and they never found his body. There was a grief counselor at his school there, who helped him by telling everyone that "though Opie is gone, he still lives inside all of us... we all carry Opie with us now. Opie is now a part of your life and still with you and will always be with you for all your experiences." Sufjan tells that he sees that as a beautiful thing, that someone can die and yet death can positively take up occupation in us, the history and experiences with have with someone, friends, lovers the history of them is imprinted in and on all of us. Each and every person you touch helps to create the person they become and you become. So to take all the people you meet with you, in your heart and always have them with you in all your experiences. It was a long a cathartic story that left everyone in the audience leveled in one way or another. Personally with so many songs about death and the human experience, understanding his take on death was in an odd way quite refreshing.

The second half of the concert was much more uplifting and high energy. Well planned out, after the first half and emotional story sharing. Fan favorites as "The Dress Looks Nice On You," "Futile Devices" and "To Be Alone With You" ended the performance. For an encore Sufjan played four of his most popular songs including ending with "Chicago" much to the approval of everyone in attendance. If you are a fan of Sufjan Stevens. You will be hard pressed to find a musician who performs any better live and shares the experience of this music, making it come to life; any more than seeing Sufjan Stevens' live. I implore you to see what I mean for yourself.

Song List
1.Death with Dignity
2. Should Have Known Better
3. Drawn To The Blood
4. All Of Me Wants All Of You
5. Eugene
6. John My Beloved
7. The Only Thing
8. Fourth of July
9. No Shade In The Shadow Of The Cross
10. Carrie & Lowell
11. The Owl and the Tanager
12. Opie's Funeral Song
13. In the Devil's Territory
14. Heirloom
15. The Dress Looks Nice On You
16. Futile Devices
17. To Be Alone With You
18. Blue Bucket of Gold
Encore
19. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland
20. For the Widows in Paradise
21. Casimir Pulaski Day
22. Chicago