Wed Sep 30 2009
Photograph: Denny Renshaw
Whispery-voiced he may be, but even at Sufjan Stevens’s very first shows, you got the feeling that the doe-eyed (and prodigiously talented) musician might do something very grand in the future. Playing to a scattering of people in 2003, he delivered songs from his Michigan album wearing a smart suit and pointing out spots of interest on a giant map of the state. For his Illinois tour, Stevens decked out his band in cheerleader costumes, filling the gaps between poignant, elegant songs with synchronized cheers and human pyramids. The next year he was joined onstage by various orchestras, resplendent in butterfly wings. Stevens’s last big show here was an orchestral celebration of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, with a film, hula hoopers and a large program booklet explaining what it all meant. Two thousand tickets sold out fast.
But if this was Stevens’s grandest gesture yet, it was arguably his least accessible; rather like watching math geniuses have some kind of equation smackdown, The BQE was impressive but not really affecting. It was something of a treat, then, to see Stevens play a quiet, afternoon set at last month’s ATO New York fest, offering his 2004 album, Seven Swans, in its entirety. His current tour of comparatively small venues suggests it’s more than likely that songs will take center stage again.—Sophie Harris