Sufjan Stevens in Kansas City

I saw Sufjan Stevens last night at the Uptown Theater in Kansas City. It was an awesome, awesome show. I think it was more enjoyable because I had only a vague idea of what to expect, as I hadn’t listened to his Age of Adz album beforehand. I’m not a big fan of electronica or synth anything, and his new work is a mishmash of 80’s-style beats (“Put on your slow-jam pants,” he told the crowd before one song) and, well, I don’t know what. He even broke out the autotune somewhere in the middle of “Impossible Soul”, during which he donned a glow-in-the-dark visor with an attached glittery mullet. One thing remains constant from his earlier work: it’s delightfully, unabashedly weird.

Sufjan during “Impossible Soul”

Sufjan interspersed the avant-garde work with acoustic guitar songs, most of which I didn’t recognize, for “a little palate cleansing,” he explained. He opened with an electronica-infused version of “Seven Swans” which fit well with his new work, and closed with a new version of “Chicago” (of course). For an encore he played the Illinois UFO song on the piano, followed by “John Wayne Gacy,” both of which were terrific. It was a bit strange to hear the crowd singing along to lyrics like “He dressed up like a clown for them… quiet hands, quiet kiss…” Ahh, the creepiness felt new all over again!

I really appreciated his humility in explaining his creative process and struggles with the new album, which you can read in interviews if you’re interested. He was very apologetic when, in one of the acoustic intermezzos, he forgot some of the lyrics. I wasn’t bothered at all, probably because I didn’t know the song. With a lot of performers, I feel the show is entirely an act, a style they simply adopted at some point in their career because it filled the room, and they go home and are completely different. Sufjan is quite goofy, but even when he’s autotuning his voice, still seems authentic.

As much as I enjoyed the show, I doubt I’ll listen to The Age of Adz much on my own. The live visuals add so much to what is otherwise a very strange, sonic odyssey. As I listen to it now in the comfort of my living room, I feel as though I’ve brought home a Picasso and hung it on the wall. I appreciate it in an art museum, but not in my home, where it just doesn’t match the furniture. The concert is the complete experience, the album is just a reproduction. That may be a trite thing to say, but in this case it’s very true.

Some reviews of The Age of Adz