Sufjan Stevens: 7 May 2010 – Berlin

Sufjan Stevens

Team Sufjan toured through the capital of Germany last night, bringing slick dance moves, metallic confetti, neon costumes, and polychromatic balloons. It’s been almost six years since the artist toured Germany; since then, Sufjan Stevens’s music has changed, his posse has doubled, his set is more elaborate… very little about the indie icon’s presentation hasn’t been reworked—except for the 100 percent effort given by each performer.

Stevens’ labelmate and friend DM Smith opened the show. He played four solo acoustic songs and charmed the crowd with conversation. The auditorium was rather bare upon the start of the musician’s set; the show started on time, but there was still a long time of people waiting to get in outside. The highlight of Stith’s set was the song “My Impatience”, which was Stith’s most eerily intriguing performance, full minor notes and layers of singing screams. Audience members seemed dismayed at the length of Stith’s set—they wanted more than just the 24 minutes.

Stevens took the stage over a half hour later, with a dramatic entrance of soft vocals, distant horns, and scattered stage light that morphed into a performance of one of his earlier tracks, “Seven Swans”. With DM Stith as his right-hand piano man and an additional nine people on stage, Stevens resembled a director of a choir or a spectacular musical. Following the song, the artist had his first of many talks with the crowd. He introduced himself with multiple sentences in German and told the audience he “wrote songs from the heart”.

The over-two-hour set consisted of mostly new songs, but the musician did a good job of incorporating new adaptations of older songs as well. He talked about how much his songwriting has changed and how he’s more recently grown out of a basic composing template and how he is now more focused on cultivating a striking mix of sounds. In the case of his latest album The Age of Adz (2010), the sounds are “more cosmic”, he said. Stevens’s newer songs were accompanied by futuristic, playful choreographed dance moves by Jesssica Dessner (sister of Aaron and Bryce from The National) and visual projections by artist Deborah Johnson.

The climax of the show was the performance of the track “Impossible Soul”, a song that reaches just over 25 minutes on Adz. Team Sufjan convinced the shy German crowd to rise, dance, and sing along, despite the show being in an old, seated theater house. Stevens broke the song up in its different phases with dance breaks and costume changes and included electronic autotune vocals that added less-serious musical fun to such a high-energy song. The autotuning was most entertaining during an R&B breakdown toward the end of the song where Stevens and one of the female performers traded vocals.

“Impossible Soul” topped off the set and brought the audience to a standing ovation before Team Sufjan left the stage. After persistent stomping and clapping by the audience, Stevens entered the stage again, this time dressed in “normal” day-to-day clothes for a three-song encore. The musican played solo acoustic renditions of the older songs “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland” and “John Wayne Gacy”. The rest of the performers joined him on stage for the final encore song, “Chicago”, in which the crowd responded ecstatically. Stevens graciously thanked the crowd for their support and exclaimed that he was more than thrilled to be back in Berlin.