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Sufjan Stevens brings powerful performance to Central Illinois

September 27, 2009

Sufjan Stevens
September 26, 2009
High Dive – Champaign, Ill.

On Saturday evening, Sufjan Stevens and his merry troupe of musicians brought their show to the Highdive in Champaign.

The band is currently doing a tour of smaller venues, making the experience of seeing them play more intimate and special for the fan. Saturday’s performance did not disappoint.

The anticipation among the audience was tangible, and the murmurs of excitement were clearly audible above the din of the opening act Cryptacize.

Stevens and his band of talented multi-instrumentalists took the stage to a roar and immediately launched in to a new song.

The set list prepared by Stevens is what would be expected from an artist whose last proper release came more than five years previous. About half of the songs performed were unreleased, which Stevens explained to the audience.

“Since most of these songs aren’t from a record you have to enjoy it in the moment. It’s a very zen experience,” he said.

The band was very cohesive throughout the evening, but they seemed loose and enjoyed the music they were playing. Most of the new material represented a departure from Stevens’ prior work.

Rather than simple, elegant folk compositions, his new work was an epic mix of staccato electro-jazz with a funky backbeat.

Stevens’ joked about the free nature of the lengthy new material and how free the band was playing.

“It’s a bit like a live workshop when we play these new songs,” he commented to the audience.

Though his set was thoroughly inundated with fresh music, it did not leave a bitter taste in any fans mouths.

Tony Schwegmann, senior environmental health major at ISU, commented that he was very impressed with Stevens’ performance.

“I liked all the new songs, they had a different sound to them and I enjoyed it,” he said. “It was worth the trip to Champaign.”

Schwegmann commented that he had been a fan of Stevens for a long time and his set was really good and that he enjoyed the performance.

It was hard not to enjoy the show that the singer/songwriter put on Saturday evening. His delicate falsetto rang out above the intricate guitar and horn sections creating a warm final product, perfectly suited for the close quarters of the Highdive.

Of the songs that weren’t new, Stevens varied his set between several of his previous releases including Illinois, Greetings from Michigan and Seven Swans.

His versions of “The Upper Peninsula” and “Chicago” were soft and beautiful. The gentle nature of the performance set them apart from the more harsh tones of the newer material, creating natural highs and lows throughout the performance.

During “Casmir Pulaski Day” the crowd really came to life, and the band returned their enthusiasm with a stunning performance. Stevens’ tale of losing a friend to bone cancer was somber and gorgeous. It was a real high point for the evening.

Stevens’ work is ornately composed, full of lush sounds and layers. Seemingly it would be difficult to translate his material into a live performance, but Saturday night he proved his musical might with a cohesive, well-constructed set.

Originally posted at

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