By Matt Craig Burke
Sufjan Stevens stops by San Diego for a rare appearance in support of his dark, but gorgeous seventh studio album, Carrie & Lowell. Playing the Copley Symphony Hall, a beautiful gothic-revival movie theatre where Stevens captivated the audience for a generous two hours.
A sense of curiosity set in as to how the indie-folk all-star would be able to perform the skeletal songs of Carrie & Lowell, while also maintaining the audience’s attention. Dispelling those thoughts, Sufjan and his band started out with, “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” the gloomy piano ensemble from 2003’s Michigan that sent chills throughout the crowd. After that, most of the night consisted of new material. In an effort to inject a pulse into the funereal songs of Carrie & Lowell, hip-hop and electronic landscapes were added which seemed to grip the crowd’s focus. The Copley Symphony Hall is a relatively large venue, and it’s not easy to be intimate without lulling everyone to sleep. Nonetheless, Sufjan Stevens successfully delivered the music on a neon platter that kept the listener curious and hungry for more. With so many quiet moments during the set, you could faintly hear the person next to you breathing, yet the crowd remained extremely respectful. Whistles and yelps could be heard when a familiar banjo or guitar riff started off, offering a sort of comic relief.
The crowd was acknowledged after about 12 songs with a simple, “Thanks” from Sufjan, making the crowd cheer with appreciation as he charmed everyone with his boyish and lovable demeanor. He began to speak of his childhood, sharing stories of his parents and family pets. After playing mostly new material, Sufjan and company dipped down into his arsenal of past albums, Illinoise, Seven Swans, Age of Adz, and All Delighted People. Saving “Blue Bucket of Gold” for last (before the encore), the song transitioned into a psychedelic jam accompanied by frantic lighting and feedback from the audience. It was almost too much for the poor symphony hall to accommodate, nearly sending the audience into a collective seizure. As they ended the finale, the band waited for everyone to stop applauding, but that didn’t happen, leaving them to shyly retreat backstage. The crowd kept the roars going for a solid five minutes before the team came back out for more.
After dazzling the eyes with a killer light show and hypnotizing everyone with ear candy, Sufjan concluded the night perfectly with “Chicago”. Its horns and vocal harmonies summarized the whole performance, leaving fans with a more than memorable experience.