Let Me Entertain You: Sufjan Stevens @ Johnny Brenda’s 9.21.09

Most everything about Sufjan Stevens is a little unusual. From his meticulous examination of the human condition to the intricately arranged pieces of music to which he sets those examinations, he has rightfully earned his place as one of the most unique songwriters around. Rather surprisingly for someone with legions of devoted fans waiting to scoop up whatever new project he puts out, Stevens decided to quietly go on tour for a few weeks to test out some new material. Maybe ‘quietly’ isn’t the proper word, because the unorthodox manner in which people could get into these shows caused some uproar among those who were unable to secure a spot inside (no tickets were printed, and spaces were extremely limited). Luckily, a friend of mine was gracious enough to have me be her +1, so I got to see the first of two shows at Johnny Brenda’s, where Sufjan’s tour kicks off.

The venue itself is almost as unusual as the featured performer. Located in one of Philadelphia’s many, well, icky districts, Johnny Brenda’s sticks out from the boarded-up buildings and ‘business’ fronts. Renovated within the past few years, the upstairs performance space is small, but not cramped. Before Sufjan was a set from label-mates Cryptacize, whose bouncy pop bordered between Sterolab‘s glossy lounge and The Magnetic Fields‘ classy pop. Of course, Sufjan’s music needs no such explanation, so let’s just get right to the point:

As most of the songs performed were still in their formative stages (Sufjan alternately referred to the tour as a “live workshop” and “The Gong Show”), the mythology of some of Sufjan’s most revered projects was largely absent. Sure, he did some songs from Seven Swans and ended with a solo rendition of Michigan‘s “Romulus,” but the night was not one of ‘hits,’ relatively speaking. Instead, the audience was treated to pieces such as “The Age Of Adz” and, after a few false starts, “Impossible Soul.” Whether or not the version I heard is the final one, the song (possibly) known as “There’s A Lot Riding On This” was a definite highlight. Sufjan notably remarked that he planned to write an album about all 50 states. That may have indeed been a sarcastic remark, as the new songs didn’t seem to follow any state-ly themes. Despite that, with songs as strong and as impossibly arranged as the ones performed last night, I have no doubt that Sufjan will be forgiven if he decides to abandon the 50 States project.

Another thing that really made the night enjoyable was how much the audience and performers respected each other. It doesn’t sound like something that would make a show all that different, but I have been to too many shows that were ruined or dampened by an unruly crowd or a standoffish performer. The crowd last night was patient when the band tiptoed their way through the mess of wires and effects pedals to cross the stage, and they remained politely (if a bit eerily) silent during each song, only to erupt with applause and cheers once the tune was over. It’s a testament to how Sufjan and the band present themselves: fun-loving and up for a laugh, but when it’s time to be on, they’re on. And boy, were they on.

Click the picture at the top of this post to see more of Sufjan Stevens in concert!


~ by E. on September 22, 2009.

One Response to “Let Me Entertain You: Sufjan Stevens @ Johnny Brenda’s 9.21.09”

  1. Good look. Stoked for tonight.

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