Sufjan Stevens @ Heinz Hall - 11/4/2015

Sufjan Stevens pays attention to detail like no other. From the second his band came onstage to start playing Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou), a switch had flipped and they were on, every move part of a deliberate performance, until the show ended. Sufjan, himself, came out to join the band for the second track, Death With Dignity, and from there, the show careened into one of the most perfect, well-rehearsed performances many in the crowd had ever seen.

Sufjan’s set consisted almost exclusively of tracks from his most recent release, Carrie & Lowell. The well-received, sentimental album about his childhood trips to Oregon with his mother and stepfather was played in its entirety, along with three tracks from Stevens more electronic prior release, Age of Adz.

Appropriately accompanying the performance were magnificent, overwhelming visuals. A backdrop of long, thin screens spanned the stage, hosting projections of home videos from Stevens’ childhood to scenic backdrops of oceans and beaches. At times, bright, flashing lights accompanied particularly powerful instrumental moments in the set, but for the most part, the visuals stayed tranquil, adding to the thoughtful, meaningful atmosphere onstage. 

The lights were incredibly well-queued, complimenting the rehearsed nature of the show. Stevens didn’t speak to the audience once during his set, each song flowed seamlessly into the next, and some tracks were accompanied by choreographed hand motions, emphasizing the overarching lyrical themes that Stevens was trying to communicate. Stevens’ band performed with remarkable deliberateness, effortlessly executing their parts and playing off of one another. It was almost as if Stevens and the band wished to be heard and not seen, inviting the audience to contemplate the music and the visuals while lost in their own heads.

To wit, Stevens ended his set with a ten minute instrumental outro after performing Blue Bucket of Gold. Looking around the crowd, many were completely entranced by the band’s ethereal textures and unambiguously overpowering lights. It was almost impossible to see the band, and indeed, many in the audience were completely lost in their own heads. 

After Stevens bowed and left the stage, the audience gave him a standing ovation and ten minutes of rampant applause before he came back on the stage alone to do an acoustic version of Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois. He was then joined by his band for For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti and To Be Alone With You before launching into a very well-received version of Chicago. Stevens ended the set with an unexpected but fitting version of Drake’s Hotline Bling, calling out the opener, Gallant to perform it with him. 

Stevens played a meticulously crafted set, showcasing the themes he explores in Carrie & Lowell and making the audience explore their connection with his music during the show. Unlike other bands, Stevens used his set as an opportunity to present a coherent work of art to the audience, then appropriately using the encore to have fun and play crowd pleasers. For the diehard of casual Sufjan fan, this was all you could’ve wanted in his show, a masterful, coherent offering capable of moving anyone to tears.