Sufjan Stevens @ Loew’s Landmark Theatre, Jersey City (Saturday, Oct. 31, 2015)

Went to this concert with Vivenzio on Halloween night. We were both looking forward to this show and as we glanced at the setlist from prior shows, we knew that Sufjan would be playing every song off of his latest album “Carrie & Lowell.” This forced us to listen to the new album instead of hoping he would play tracks from his whole catalog, but this was a blessing in disguise because “Carrie & Lowell” is a masterpiece. Written about the death of his mom who abandoned him when he was younger, Sufjan addresses the pain and confusion dealing with his personal tragedies with beautifully simplistic songs, usually with just an acoustic guitar and his whispering voice. The best word I can use to describe the experience of the album is “haunting.”

To no surprise, the concert experience was the same way. In front of a sold out crowd in Jersey City, Sufjan played an amazing set, stripped down to merely his acoustic guitar and himself. He had four band members playing back-up instrumentals and vocals, but this was definitely the Sufjan Stevens show. It was also one of the darkest concerts I have attended, without a single person taking out their cell phone to take pictures or videos. Everyone was mesmerized by the magic of Sufjan’s voice and finger-picked guitar riffs. From the first song of the night, “Death with Dignity,” home videos of Sufjan’s childhood were displayed behind him. It set the tone for the night, that he was going to invite all of us to some of the most personal moments that he can remember, some being painful and others more accepting. The audience listened to every lyric and every note played with their undivided attention.

During the first 80 minutes of the performance, Sufjan didn’t speak one word to the audience. Not even a simple “hello,” but instead played his songs with an efficient light show up on the stage to a respectful and seated packed auditorium. And as incredible the album is, some of Sufjan’s live versions of his songs were even better. Those highlights include: John My Beloved, Fourth of July, and All of Me Wants All of You. These live interpretations stood out from the rest of the pack. Also, as Sufjan ended his set with Blue Bucket of Gold, this resulted in a ten-minute jam session of crasing drums, wild guitar melodies, and a never-ending synth loop with a crescendo to fill your ears of so much noise you wouldn’t think possible.

The encore had a much different tone. He finally spoke to the audience, thanking us for the applause and then telling us “Happy Halloween.” What better night is there to sing songs about death? He then dipped into his catalog and played some of my favorites such as For the Widows in Paradise For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti and John Wayne Gacy Jr. He also played an acoustic version of Chicago, probably his most well-known song. But to truly end the night on a high note, Sufjan with his opener Gallant, played a cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” and it was both hilarious and awesome. It was really nice to see Sufjan just let loose by busting some dance moves while singing “You used to call me on my cell phone!”

Overall, this concert only fortifies my feeling that Sufjan puts on one of the best live shows in the business today. Seeing him during his Age of Adz tour and now with Carrie & Lowell, you couldn’t pick two shows more different than these two from the same artist, but both were equally spectacular. I can’t wait for Sufjan to come around again… maybe in another four or five years.

Setlist:

1. Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
2. Death with Dignity
3. Should Have Known Better
4. Drawn to the Blood
5. Eugene
6. John My Beloved
7. The Only Thing
8. Fourth of July
9. No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross
10. Carrie & Lowell
11. All of Me Wants All of You
12. Vesuvius
13. I Want to Be Well
14. Blue Bucket of Gold

Encore

15. Futile Devices
16. For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
17. John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
18. Chicago
19. Hotline Bling

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