Monday, August 8, 2011

Sufjan Stevens plays Prospect Park

Sufjan Stevens, Live at the Prospect Park Bandshell, August 2nd 2011

By Dylan Hume

Sufjans Stevens and his band played to a sold-out crowd at the Prospect Park Bandshell Tuesday night. The show, one of the few ticketed events at the bandshell this summer, was a fundraiser for BRIC Arts, the organization that runs the Celebrate Brooklyn! Performing Arts Festival, now in it's 33rd summer season.

The Brooklyn vibe was palpable, to say the least. At one point during his set, Sufjan gestured vaguely eastward, saying, "I live right over there." He wasn't the only one, and the hometown energy of the crowd fed the band as they progressed through their set.

Stevens is known for his lush orchestrations, and last night they were on full display, but the band was impressive in its economy. The ensemble was not too big, and filled out by a complement of two trombonists, two flautists, and two drummers, along with a few other instrumentalists, backup singers, and Sufjan, of course, on guitar and synth. That a band of that (relativiely) moderate size could make such a big sound was remarkable, as was their dynamic range and unfailing precision.

Even more remarkable was the visual aspect of the show. Stevens is a dedicated artist, taking painstaking steps to make sure that every part of his performance is in line with his concepts. The lighting and the artwork displayed on the stage were incredible in scope and meticulous in execution.

Most of songs on Tuesday were from Stevens' 2010 album, "The Age of Adz," which was partly inspired by the work of visual artist Royal Robertson. Stevens gave an homage to Robertson before proceeding with a tremendous visual display of beautiful and haunting projections during "Get Real Get Right." As the show came to its climax during the epic closing number, "Impossible Soul," Stevens appeared on stage wearing suit made primarily from balloons as dozens of enormous, translucent beach balls flooded the audience and four tall, brightly-colored flailing-arm inflatable tube men popped up from nowhere. It might have been overwhelming, if it wasn't so captivating.

And therein lies the one problem with the show as a whole: a tendency toward the schizoid. Stevens clearly wants to do everything all of the time, and is largely successful, but much like the album version of "Impossible Soul," it felt as though he was cramming too many ideas in to a medium that can only take the weight of so many distinct concepts.

Still, the show was one of the most impressive productions I've seen at a live rock concert in a long time. The Celebrate Brooklyn! season should be praised for its diverse lineup of considerable talents, but Tuesday's show was most definitely one of the highlights of the summer.

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