Sufjan Stevens @ Prospect Park, 8/2/11
On Tuesday, August 2nd, Sufjan Stevens and his entire crew of neon, electrified, aerobic dancers, singers, and musicians performed at the first of his two shows at Prospect Park. This sold-out event was part of Celebrate Brooklyn, and these two shows would also be the final ones of his Age of Adz tour. Later on, I’d also realize that I caught the better of the two shows because of no rain!
Standing off to the side made it difficult to fully experience the visuals projected on the screen onstage, but fortunately, Sufjan alone was one intense visual. His first look featured beautiful, large, white angel wings, which he wore during the song “Seven Swans”. They added more peace and a dreamlike, fantastic element to this song. He would later remove them to reveal the neon look: neon bands, tape, and stringed lights. With everyone onstage dressed in similar hues of neon, it looked like a psychedelic circus up there! The band went into a series of the songs off the new album. With so much visual (and auditory) stimulation everywhere, it was either liberating or overwhelming to experience, depending on one’s age, level of intoxication, or familiarity with shows along this tour.
Without a doubt, the performance onstage was highly entertaining. All of the dancers were unstoppable and mirrored each other’s moves very well while Sufjan educated, inspired, and opened up to the crowd. He dedicated the show to a celebration of the body, movement, and beats. He spoke positively of getting older and wiser, and then he called on young people to keep the older ones in check. Basically any wisdom or advice he gave to the crowd that night was met with cheers from the audience.
Having seen him live once on this tour already, I was already familiar with this over-the-top performance and the reasons behind it. Self-declared prophet and folk artist, Royal Robertson was a man from New Orleans whose spacey artwork and tragically troubled life moved Sufjan deeply, so Sufjan based his entire album, The Age of Adz on Robertson. As Sufjan did at every show along this tour, he spoke about Robertson and then declared, “Folk is outer space”, which was met with more screams from the audience.
Much of the set list featured songs of the recent album, but there were also older songs, too, such as “Heirloom” (All Delighted People), “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois,” “Chicago,” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” (Illinoise). And just because this was an outdoor performance did not exclude it from the famous giant “keep the balloons/balls up in the air” game, which featured giant, clear ones instead of the colorful ones that dropped from the ceiling at Beacon Theatre the last time I saw him. This element of the show was so fulfilling, playful, and mesmerizing to watch.
Sufjan’s last outfit featured a whole mess of balloons and a foil hat. It was pretty makeshift and very humorous. However, under all of those balloons, foil, and neon, Sufjan seemed especially relaxed and at ease with himself and the crowd. Perhaps it was because he was playing in his backyard – “My house is right over there,” he told the audience – or perhaps it was due to his tour ending. It was easy to look past all of the decorative distractions and see a natural performer onstage, doing what he loved doing.