During “Fourth of July” from Sufjan Stevens’ emotional punch to the gut Carrie & Lowell, the singer closes the song repeating the phrase “we’re all gonna die.” Live in Los Angeles on Thursday night, the moment made the leap from ear buds to concert hall, complete with a Dorothy-opens-the-door-to-Oz magnitude and vividness. During the loudest moments, search lights scanned the audience as much as the stage, guiding fans to the realization that the “we” in Stevens’ words is all of us, and dying didn’t seem that bad. It unified us; its inevitability something we all have in common.
It was just one of many things that Stevens illuminated as relatable in his set. In a mid-set speech, Stevens also brought the audience together with the idea of encouragement, tying the idea that from birth most people receive encouragement in their life until it suddenly falls off in adulthood, somehow weaving in Bring It On 2 to the conclusion that people need to be more encouraging of others.
Needless to say, Stevens must certainly feel encouraged with his recent run. His latest album is one of the best reviewed albums of the year, and his two-hour live show manages to take a breathtaking record and push it even further, popping exponentially brighter in real life. Stevens would receive deserved standing ovations for both the completion of his main set and his encore, with all four levels of the venue standing in respect and admiration. It was a response especially appropriate concerning the setting, a classical music hall, the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, which hadn’t been used for a contemporary performance since the likes of Prince, Sigur Ros, and Bjork all had runs in the room in the early 2000’s. And Stevens did the space justice, utilizing the impressive sound system to limits that felt oppressively beautiful, combining lights and sounds and ideas and familiarity into a well-rounded experience.
At one point, Stevens thanked the audience for allowing him to focus on new material. But, for an album like Carrie & Lowell, it was exactly the tour that Stevens’ fans would want from him. They are songs that deserve to be played loud, deserve undivided attention, deserve to be seen as special. For the rest of the setlist, Stevens carefully chose beloved older tracks that meshed sonically and tonally with the new ones. In particular, “Sister” and “The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!” benefited from the exalting, receiving whoops and cheers by devoted Stevens fans, thrilled to hear favorites and recognizing them from their opening notes.
It wasn’t a perfect performance, but, rather, it wore its faults with charm. A couple moments found Stevens getting lost at which lyric would come next, but rather than pause completely, he’d manage to keep himself collected and persevere through the song despite the bump. For the encore, the rhythm of the show and the grandeur of closer “Blue Bucket of Gold” couldn’t be matched, but it was okay given that everyone loves “Chicago”, and it is Stevens’ one song that can unify a crowd of any size.
And this unification is a strange theme considering how personal the nature of Carrie & Lowell is. Though home movies of Stevens were projected behind him at times, the experience of sorrow and grief, and, ultimately, life’s undeniable fragility and beauty are universal, and the specificity of Stevens’ vision makes it feel all the more real. The night wound up feeling like a gift that both the performer and the audience could share.
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Death with Dignity
Should Have Known Better
Drawn to the Blood
All of Me Wants All of You
John My Beloved
The Only Thing
Fourth of July
No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross
Carrie & Lowell
The Owl and the Tanager
For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
To Be Alone with You
The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!
Blue Bucket of Gold
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