Sufjan Stevens Delights The Bowery Ballroom

October 6th, 2009

Sufjan Stevens – The Bowery Ballroom – October 5, 2009

Sufjan Stevens - The Bowery Ballroom - October 5, 2009Like all of his NYC appearances this month, Sufjan Stevens’ show at The Bowery Ballroom last night was sold out. He’s been heavily praised for every piece he’s created, and for good reason: Stevens has set an impossibly high standard that he lives up to every time. The set began with “The Mistress Witch from McClure,” with Stevens gently picking a banjo and accompanied by a French horn. You could hear the floorboards creaking beneath the shifting weight of hundreds of hushed fans, the silence interrupted only by roaring applause. During “Casimir Pulaski Day” a girl was so moved she asked the bartender for napkins to wipe away tears.

It was hard to not read into everything—the shirt Stevens wore, the phrasing of a verse, the humble offhand comments or every nuance—to decipher the complexity of what was happening onstage. Stevens’ band of at least eight rotating members, including Nedelle Torrisi from the opening band, Cryptacize, on backing vocals, crowded the stage with instruments and music stands. Stevens explained he was touring for the “first time in a while” and that he was “using it as an opportunity to workshop some new songs,” like “Impossible Soul,” which showcased his electronic side. He wasn’t singing in a falsetto whisper, but belting out echoed vocals over a hard-rock arrangement that featured him deconstructing a solo, seemingly trying to prove he’s capable of hitting a wrong note, making something ugly for once. (But just barely.)

Any sign of improvisation in the jazzed-up versions of songs like “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” was always carefully composed chaos. Perfectionist Stevens obviously used the term workshop very loosely. I expected to see an artist in the studio, stretching canvas, working on half-finished abstract paintings. Instead, he unveiled completed, overwhelming masterpieces. As usual. —Jason Dean

Photos courtesy of Greg Notch |