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- Posted on Sep 28th 2009 10:30AM by Garin Pirnia
Instead of hitting the larger market in Chicago, Stevens and his mini-orchestra backing band stopped in rural Champaign, Ill., two-and-a-half hours outside the Windy City on Saturday night. About 300 Sufjan fanatics huddled in the tiny local bar, the High Dive, to hear what the impresario had to offer.
Horn players, a drummer and Cryptacize singer Nedelle Torrisi accompanied Stevens throughout his 75-minute set. Wearing a t-shirt he designed himself, Stevens stood behind pages of sheet music perched on music stands, telling the audience he hadn't toured in a while but wanted to try out some new tunes. He didn't waste any time, starting the set with the new 'Impossible Soul,' a song Stevens proclaimed was the first love song he'd ever written. Echoing and breathy vocals, light guitar distortion and dizzying horns exemplified a departure from the folksy rhythms fans were more accustomed to.
Half of his set was comprised of new songs rooted in experimentation (including the cacophonous 'The Majesty Snowbird'), but he also performed 'The Upper Peninsula' from 'Michigan,' three stripped-down, acoustic numbers from 'Seven Swans' and three songs from 'Illinois.' When Stevens played the devastating 'Casimir Pulaski Day,' he tried to hit a falsetto but his voice cracked instead. He and the audience chuckled at the gaff which broke the heavy mood.
He ended the set on the apropos 'Chicago,' removing the soaring strings and adding a measured tempo. "It's so awkward because we can't go anywhere," remarked Stevens about not leaving the small stage then coming back for an encore. The crowd booed when Stevens told them he had to clear the stage for the DJ on next. In response, some audience members muttered why the bar would even book a DJ after Stevens.
For the faux-encore, Stevens and band appeased the audience with the final new song of the night, the poppy and glitchy, 'There's Too Much Love.' Judging from the new songs -- none of which center on any particular state -- another '50 States' record isn't on the horizon, but Stevens' newest material will more than satiate in the meantime.