Last night I saw Sufjan Stevens perform at the Bandshell in Prospect Park as part of the Celebrate Brooklyn series. My mind was thoroughly blown. I was simply not prepared for the level of sensory stimulation at work in this concert. The large band (pairs of drummers, trombones, guitars, backup singers, dancers, keyboardists, flutists) were decked out in space-age neon garb and the stage props included giant angel wings worn by Sufjan.
Before I go on about the theatrical nature of the show, I should mention that the music was GREAT! They mostly played music from Sufjan's latest record, The Age of Adz, which is one of my favorite recent albums. The music is very epic with a futuristic electronic sound, and meticulously arranged.
Here's a trailer for the tour.
The visual art element of the concert was very impressive. There was a lot of great video art synched up to the songs and much of it was breathtaking. I think Wagner would have approved, this was definitely a 21st century indie-rock equivalent of Gesamtkunstwerk, the total work of art, or synthesis of the arts. The show also reminded me of seeing the Flaming Lips for the first time, another group that makes very creative use of video art. Sufjan mentioned briefly that the album was inspired largely by the artist Royal Robertson, and the video art in the show incorporated a lot of his images. Here's a description of Robertson's work.
"The Age of Adz refers to the Apocalyptic art of Royal Robertson (1930 –1997), a black Louisiana-based sign-maker (and self-proclaimed prophet) who suffered from schizophrenia, and whose work depicts the artist’s vivid dreams and visions of space aliens, futuristic automobiles, eccentric monsters, and signs of the Last Judgment, all cloaked in a confusing psychobabble of biblical prophecy, numerology, Nordic mythology and comic book jargon. Portions of the album use Robertson’s work as a springboard into a cosmic consciousness in which basic instincts are transposed on a tableau of extraordinary scenes of divine wrath, environmental catastrophe, and personal loss. In Robertson’s imagination, guns, lasers, gargoyles, and warring battleships upend the sins of mankind with the pageantry of a Hollywood B-movie. (A selection of Robertson’s work adds extraordinary color to the album art as well). "
This is a video that Sufjan made using Robertson's art for the song "Get Real, Get Right."