Went to see Sufjan Stevens on Wednesday. We got there early, and my spirits flagged when I realized there were not one, not two, but THREE opening bands! Piggybacking like indie ticks on the back of an indie dog. When I was younger I would be excited about opening bands, as there was the prospect of hearing someone new and good. Now that I'm older, it seems like their only role is to annoy me relentlessly until my threshold of quality has been lowered to the point where the main band could take shits on my head and I'd still think, "it could be worse."
Friday's show was no exception. We luckily missed the first band. The second, Half Handed Cloud, consisted of 3 nerdy Christian boys playing twee-pop with ukeleles, kazoos and cymbals. Their lead singer's voice was even more fey than the guy from the Decemberists. What is it with these bands?! Their interminable caterwauling fills me with violent rage. "You know what these guys need?" I asked Az. "What these guys need is a good beating." But alas, Henry Rollins was nowhere in sight.
After Half Handed Nerds came Joanna Newsome, a lissome young lady with a big harp. Her harp playing wasn't bad, but her voice... it sounded like she was making fun of Bjork but she wasn't! She was just singing that way! FUCKING KILL ME!
Because she didn't have a band, all of her songs sounded exactly the same. Just harp and irritating faux-Bjork yelping. This went on for an hour. After the first 30 minutes, I was literally muttering "shutupshutupSHUTUP" under my breath. Az. and I were totally enervated. We contemplated going home, as our spirits were deteriorating rapidly in the face of this shitty performance.
When Newsome finally finished, it was already getting late. Sufjan Stevens didn't even come on till quarter to midnight! My freshly shaven chin was now bristly with beard hair. Thankfully, when Sufjan started up, his charm won us over.
He and his band came out dressed in Boy Scout uniforms, with flag bandannas wrapped around their necks. "Hi, I'm Sufjan Stevens, and this is the Michigan Miltia." They had a flag draped on the side of the stage, and a big map of Michigan posted high above. The conceit of the set was that he was gonna take us on a tour of Michigan. All the songs on that album (and some of the more religious songs on his followup, Seven Swans) relate to his family, childhood and growing up in Michigan. Some of the factoids we learned:
1) Michigan is the only state that consists of two peninsulas
2) When Sufjan was little his house caught on fire
3) The female backup singer in Sufjan's band is hot
I guess not all of these facts related to Michigan per se, but the point is, he put on a *show*. It's rare thesedays to see bands that can actually engage in banter, tell a compelling story, and win over an audience with personality and charm. Sufjan was up to the task. It also helped that he can really sing. When he and hot backup singer harmonized, it was a thing of beauty. My heart was all aflutter. He does these complex poppy arrangements, sort of Elliot Smith / Belle and Sebastian, that sound really good live.
I would recommend you check him out if he comes to your hood. But try to get there around 11:30, and if you must get there earlier, be sure to bring Henry Rollins so he can issue the thrashings the opening bands so richly deserve.