Flash-forward to the encore of Sufjan Steven’s sold out show at the Beachland Ballroom last night. Oddball trombone and trumpet solos, haunted house-style synths, and Steven’s ethereal, echoed vocals twisted together in a new concoction that Miles Davis might have thought up, were he zapped 100 years into the future in the midst of an apocalypse. It was wild stuff, and that’s saying something for an artist who gives his songs names like “A Conjunction of Drones Simulating the Way in Which Sufjan Stevens Has an Existential Crisis in the Great Godfrey Maze” and puts together 36-piece multimedia orchestras (his latest project, BQE).
A few songs into the Detroit native’s set, he explained that he would be playing new material “at [the crowd’s] expense” because he was rusty on the old stuff. Backed by a full band (backup vocalist Nedelle Torrisi of opening band Cryptacize, a drummer, bassist, trombone player, and French horn/keyboardist), Stevens launched through an hour-long set that included a handful of songs from Illinois, Michigan, and Seven Swans, as well as four new tunes.
Older numbers like “Jacksonville” and “Casimir Pulaski Day” were sweetly acoustic. Stevens alternated between his banjo and acoustic guitar while Torrisi’s crystal clear harmonies melded with the rich horn section. When fans weren’t busy mouthing the words or screaming proclamations of love for Sufjan, they clasped their hands together over their hearts with joy. The multi-instrumentalist writes songs that are an eclectic mix of everything he’s has ever heard, somehow filtering it all into arrangements so cohesive and glimmeringly beautiful that one wonders why nobody thought of them sooner.
Stevens’ ability to combine genres was spotlighted in his new material. “The Age of Odds” sounded like aliens invading Earth speaking broken English. Noise and distortion clouded the beginning, and it evolved into an experimental masterpiece. Along with much of his newer material, it seemed reminiscent of 2001’s Enjoy Your Rabbit, his abstract instrumental sophomore album (but with vocals and melodies intact). The odder-than-ever-before sounds weren’t crazy enough to scare off the crowd. Beachland employees had to turn on the house lights and point toward the doors after fans spent 10 minutes waiting for a second encore. Who ever said weird wasn’t good?