Review: Sufjan Stevens at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall 6/8/15

Written by on June 9, 2015

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On June 8th 2015, Sufjan Stevens played his first show in Portland since his “Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long” tour in December 2012. This tour is in support of Stevens’ newest album, Carrie & Lowell. The concert took place at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, just a few blocks from where yours truly resides in Downtown Portland.

I’ve been a rabid fan of Stevens since 2010, when I first heard “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” off of Stevens’ Illinois album, courtesy of a mixtape made for me by a high school boyfriend. After that, I fell in love with Stevens’ other albums, and The Age of Adz is now my personal favorite (Check out my Sufjan Stevens episode of The Rhythm of Devotion to hear some of my other favorite tunes). I’ve been waiting patiently for five years now to see Stevens play live, so needless to say, I was incredibly excited for this concert. But I digress.

Helado Negro aka Roberto Carlos Lange, Stevens’ Asthmatic Kitty labelmate, opened the show, accompanied by two “backup dancers” draped in tinsel that moved slowly back and forth to the music. Negro’s ambient, electronic tunes reminded this reviewer of Boards of Canada with the addition of soulful singing in both English and Spanish.

Around 9pm, Stevens appeared on a darkened stage with four backing musicians, opening with an instrumental track from Greetings from Michigan, “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou).” Stevens then stepped out from behind the piano and started the first track from Carrie & Lowell, “Death with Dignity.” For the first half of the show, Stevens played almost the entirety of Carrie & Lowell, with no acknowledgment of the audience. It wasn’t until the title song “Carrie & Lowell” was finished that he greeted the audience. From then on, Stevens regaled the audience with little stories and motivational speaking, from the story behind his Hustler t-shirt to a touching monologue about rising above depression and despair.

Highlights of the show included a remixed version of “All of Me Wants All of You” (complete with awkward dancing by Stevens), “In the Devil’s Territory,” and “The Only Thing,” a gut-wrenching ode to suicidal thoughts. But the show closer, “Blue Bucket of Gold,” took the show from great to almost a religious experience. “Blue Bucket” was extended from the album version to a wall of sound reminiscent of The Age of Adz, complete with a seizure-inducing light show I’d imagine you’d see if you were being abducted by aliens. Utterly transfixing.

The show was an overwhelmingly emotional experience. At one point, a girl behind me handed me a tissue because I was so clearly upset – embarrassing, but helpful. Stevens himself seemed emotionally affected at a couple points during the show. Regardless, I highly recommend anyone go see Sufjan Stevens if given the chance. There was a little something for everyone, from old fans to new. Just remember to bring your Kleenex.

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