Flash-forward to the encore of Sufjan Stevens' sold-out show at the Beachland Ballroom last night. Oddball trombone and trumpet solos, haunted house-style synths and Stevens' ethereal, echoed vocals twisted together in a new concoction that Miles Davis might have thought up 100 years into the future in the middle of an apocalypse. It was wild stuff, and that’s saying something for Stevens, an artist who once titled a song “A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze” and put together 36-piece multimedia orchestra.
A few songs into his set, Stevens explained that he would be playing new material “at [the crowd’s] expense,” because he was rusty on the old stuff. Backed by a full band (backup singer Nedelle Torrisi from opening band Cryptacize, a drummer, bassist, trombone player and French horn player/keyboardist), Stevens launched through an hour-long set that included a handful of songs from his albums Illinois, Michigan and Seven Swans, as well as four new tunes.
Older numbers like “Jacksonville” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” were sweetly acoustic. Stevens alternated between banjo and acoustic guitar, while Torrisi’s crystal-clear harmonies melded with the rich horn section. When fans weren’t busy mouthing the words or screaming proclamations of love, they clasped their hands together over their hearts with joy. The multi-instrumentalist writes songs that are an eclectic mix of everything he’s ever heard, somehow filtering it all into arrangements so cohesive and beautiful that you wonder why nobody thought of them sooner.
Stevens’ ability to combine genres was spotlighted on the new material. “The Age of Odds” sounded like aliens invading Earth, all the while speaking broken English. Noise and distortion clouded the beginning of the song, which evolved into an experimental masterpiece. Along with much of the newer material, it seemed reminiscent of 2001’s Enjoy Your Rabbit, Stevens' abstract instrumental sophomore album (but with vocals and melodies this time).
But the odder-than-ever sounds weren’t crazy enough to scare off the crowd. Beachland employees had to turn on the house lights and point toward the doors after fans spent 10 minutes waiting for a second encore. Who says weird isn’t good? —Danielle Sills
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