Wednesday, October 11, 2006

(10.11.06) Recommends:

Sufjan Stevens, live in concert.

I know that if Indie Rock was the United Nations, Sufjan Stevens would have Most Favored Nation trade status. And it's not like I'm Kofi Annan or anything, but I've got to say, I wasn't always very enamored with this Christian troubadour. In fact, I kind of hated him for a while. Here's why:

First, my sister kept telling me I had to hear his Illinois album. So I went searching for it on Rhapsody. And Asthmatic Kitty does not license to Rhapsody. (Note: I just went to Rhapsody, and lo-and-behold, every freaking Sufjan Stevens album is now available. That's really weird. And very welcomed.) Now, I realize that it's kind of irrational to hate a musician just because his record label does not license its records to Rhapsody. I get that it's a musician's/label's prerogative not to license to Rhapsody. But it's a music fan's prerogative to completely dismiss an artist/label for not doing so. So that was strike one in my book.

Strike two came shortly thereafter when a friend and I made a record hunting trip to Berkeley. Through my finely honed powers of persuasion I convinced her to buy 'Illinois.' Most people that know me understand that I'm a pretty laid back guy. But, apparently, on the ride home from Berkeley, I was in one of my "less talk, more rock" moods, and I found "Illinois" so plodding and boring that I nearly threw it out the window, where it would have shattered into a million little pieces on the 880. So the count was now 0-2.

Next I came across this video. The whole "country boy with banjo" vibe was too obnoxious for me to handle. Don't get me wrong: I love the banjo. I own a banjo. I can play at least one song on the banjo. But this video is completely ridiculous. The hat? And what is that thing in the background? It's not a silo, right? It's like a big barrel of whiskey or something. So stupid. This video was another strike, but it was a foul ball, because I realize that if you were just an indie-rocker and never experienced the banjo, maybe this video would have been an introduction to all things banjo. [Although I can't think of anything that justifies the ridiculousness of the hat.]. So, another strike, but since it was a foul ball, the count is still 0-2.

Now, by this time my music-hunting-in-Berkeley friend had actually come to adore "Illinois" (I never told her that I was originally allocating the risk of a crappy CD purchase on her; therefore, she thinks it was a quite excellent recommendation) along with all things Sufjan. She made me a Sufjan Stevens mixed CD and I listened to it on a road trip to Los Angeles. And this friend must have completely understood my reluctance with Sufjan, because she got rid of all the plodding, boring Sufjan, leaving only the beautiful, stunning Sufjan. It is nearly 700 miles, roundtrip, from my apartment to Los Angeles. And of those 700 miles, I would estimate 695 were set to the music of this Sufjan mixed CD. My ears finally conquered my brain's irrationality. That's a beautiful thing, right? I don't know how to continue with the baseball metaphor. It's not like it was a home run, but more like Sufjan was still at the plate, continually fouling off pitches, thus continuing his at-bat.

Until. Until. He continued his at bat until Tuesday, when he played in Berkeley. On Tuesday, in Berkeley, he hit it to Waveland Ave. Or he cleared the roof at old Tigers Stadium. Or he hit the warehouse at Camden Yards. Or he hit the concession stand roof at Royals Stadium (a feat, I swear to god, I saw Mark McGwire once accomplish during batting practice). This show was simply one of the greatest performances I have ever seen. First off, it wasn't just Sufjan Stevens. There was a mini-orchestra of at least two dozen people. Stringed instruments, brass instruments, percussive instruments. Then there was a choir, again, at least two dozen people. Next, they were all wearing butterfly costumes over these weird quasi-marching-band, quasi-tae-kwon-do outfits. Finally, he would sing a song about Christmas-time, and inflatable Santa Clause dolls would be released from the ceiling. Or, he would sing about Superman, and inflatable Superman dolls would be released from the ceiling.

None of this is even mentioning the music. There were over one thousand people at this show. Mostly young, smart, hip people. And there was a point when I couldn't figure out why anybody was at the show. Here was a guy, in a butterfly costume, playing a banjo, accompanied by 40 other people. This was not indie rock. This was not hip. At one point I closed my eyes, and I could see my mother and father. When I was young, they used to put me to bed with stories of how they saw Simon and Garfunkel in concert. And there, in Berkely, on a Tuesday, with my eyes closed, with Sufjan Stevens and My Brightest Diamond singing, it could have been Simon and Garfunkel, in Kansas City, in the early 70s. This Sufjan Stevens fellow. He's gonna be big. I predict by this time next year he'll be singing a duet with Elton John at the Grammy's. It was "indie rock" and "hip" yet completely family friendly. The next day I was emailing friends all over the country, who had seen him at various points on this recent tour. And the sentiment was clear and uniform: this was one of the best shows each of us had seen in recent memory.

I beg of you people: please go see Sufjan Stevens the next time he visits your town.

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