Sufjan Stevens’s Christmas Spectacular
I wrote a couple of weeks ago about indie singer/songwriter Sufjan Steven’s conflicted fascination with Christmas and how conflicted relationships fits with his persona in general taking on numerous subjects with views of both reverence and contempt. This split-personality is ever apparent on the wild live show Sufjan has put together to accompany his latest Christmas collection Silver & Gold, a tour he has coined in typical weird Sufjan fashion as the “Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice.” At the Metro show this past Saturday, Sufjan packed plenty of production and personalities into one show, resulting in a sometimes exhilarating sometimes frustrating mess.
The show opened up with of all things a standup set from indie songstress Rosie Thomas’s alternate “aw shucks” personality Sheila Saputo. The comic bit was slightly amusing for the first third of it, but it seemed to just drag on and on. Not only that, but Rosie also wore out her welcome when she brought elements of her comic persona to Sufjan’s portion of the show (where she sings backup vocals), adding cutesy one-liners to a number of the songs and in song breaks. The already jam-packed multi-personality show could have done without her unnecessary silliness, even if her backup vocals were wonderful on Sufjan’s quieter folk numbers.
About 30 minutes after the little comedy routine, Sufjan and his band finally took the stage with truly flashy attire. The band’s costumes consisted of a skeleton (drums), a superman chicken (guitar), a zombie nun (multi-instrumentalist),a pig (multi-instrumentalist), a snowman (Rosie Thomas on backup vocals), Santa holding it down on bass, and Sufjan himself sporting a tall festive hat and some glow-in the dark markers. The stage was filled with an absurd amount of eclectic decorations including blow-up Santas, unicorns, Christmas garlands, Christmas lights, and a ginormous Wheel of Christmas listing Christmas carols. The band opened with the funky and festive “Christmas Woman”, one of Sufjan’s better Christmas originals, really getting the crowd in gear. But it was clear from the starting note that this would by no means be the most pristine sounding show, with a lot of miscues and sloppy play likely due to all the moving pieces in the show. At several moments throughout the show, Sufjan and other members of the band forgot lyrics, were off-key or rhythm, and were just not on the same page.
The show came off a lot like a regular Sufjan show crossed with the Flaming Lips celebratory live show and a choir of Christmas carolers. It was filled with your usual quiet and beautifully orchestrated Sufjan songs, but also filled with wacky songs, ancient hymns, animal costumes, confetti, bubbles, blow-up toys, silly anecdotes, game show nods, a cluster of miscues, and even a balloon headdress. I would also be remiss to say that he has taken many elements from his last tour for his groundbreaking electro-pop album Age of Adz where he put together an imaginative visual spectacle, and infused them into this new Christmas tour.
Like the hipster community itself that undoubtedly follows Sufjan, the show was filled with a 50/50 mix of irony and sincerity, and the quick shift back and forth between the two was strange and somewhat off-putting. A good example would be the band going from the heartfelt “Only at Christmas Time” into the ridiculous punk rock romp of “Mr. Frostyman” with Rosie Thomas wielding a fake chainsaw and wreaking havoc around stage. Another would be switching from the touching hymn of “Come Thou Fount” and the reflective “Justice Delivers Its Death” into the absurd in “Christmas Unicorn”, where Sufjan wore a glow-in-the dark balloon animal costume and paraded around stage to the eccentric tongue-in-cheek closer. “Christmas Unicorn” was no doubt ridiculously amusing and one of the defining moments of the show, but the quick switches I think not only threw off the crowd but also the band who had their fairshare of musical kinks and miscues.
For me, the show’s highlights fell with the Sufjan’s quieter Christmas tunes like “Justice Delivers Its Death” and “Sister Winter”, the non-Christmas material (especially his encore packed with four songs from his masterpiece Come on Feel the Illinoise), and the Wheel of Christmas – a spinning wheel to decide which classic carol to sing, which is a novel, humorous, and just plain fun idea. Sufjan himself was charming as always as an onstage persona and as a vocalist, but the show wasn’t quite up to his usual standards, with too many moving pieces and tricks for its own good. I respect and admire the fact that Sufjan attempted such a unique tour, but in the words of the man himself, “there’s too much.”
Can’t Miss: “Christmas Unicorn”, “Casimir Pulaski Day”, “For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti”, “Justice Delivers Its Death”
Can’t Hit: “Do You See What I See”, “Sleigh Bells”, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town”
Come On! Let’s Boogey to the Elf Dance!
Lo! How a Rose E’er Blooming
Do You Hear What I Hear?
That Was the Worst Christmas Ever!
Joy to the World
We Need a Little Christmas
A Holly Jolly Christmas
For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
Put the Lights on the Tree
Only at Christmas Time
Mr. Frosty Man
How Shall I Fitly Greet Thee?
The Child with the Star on His Head
Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas
We Wish You a Merry Christmas
Auld Lang Syne
Santa Claus Is Coming to Town
The Dress Looks Nice on You
Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing
Justice Delivers Its Death
Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Casimir Pulaski Day