Serial Killers, Serious Shift And Sufjan Stevens

Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - by Luke Lillard

After three hours with a Knoxville auditorium full of fans who were practically worshiping him, Sufjan Stevens closed with the gentle reminder (in the lyrics of “John Wayne Gacy, Jr”, from 2005’s “Illinois”) that he is no better than a serial killer.

Over the last decade, Stevens has developed a devoted fan base due to a quirky public persona and a unique style incorporating an eclectic blend of instruments. However, most of his current followers, myself included, are much less familiar with the electronica of 2002’s “Enjoy Your Rabbit,” which makes his most recent LP “The Age of Adz” (released in October 2010) all the more startling.

It seems that in the five years since “Illinois,” in which Stevens has not released a full-length album, he has decided to take his music in an entirely different direction. As Pitchfork Media reviewer Ian Cohen put it in his review of Stevens’ “All Delighted People EP” (August 2010), “we may ultimately have to retire the idea of Sufjan Stevens as a banjo-toting cartographer of the heart and the continental United States.” It remains to be seen whether “The Age of Adz,” in all its electronic, dissonant and disturbing beauty, is in fact a sign that Stevens has diverted course or simply a temporary respite from the folk-based orchestral romps of “Illinois,” “Michigan” (2003) and “Seven Swans” (2004).

In any case, Stevens’ show in Knoxville on Friday night could very easily be described as a choreographed, frenetic mess. He opened with a rendition of “Seven Swans” before changing clothes onstage (yes, he was wearing gym shorts under those jeans). He donned what can only be described as part of a spacesuit, shiny and silver, and complete with a blinking neon visor. Declaring his outfit ready, Stevens launched into the primary part of his show, largely composed of songs from his new album.

The rest of the concert can only be accurately depicted with images, partly because the conceptual underpinings of “The Age of Adz” are far less defined than on any of Stevens’ previous albums, but primarily because it was an incredible, confusing spectacle.

Consider, for instance, the artwork of the late Royal Robertson, a paranoid schizophrenic from Louisiana who declared himself a prophet, which featured prominently in the videos projected on the screen behind Stevens. Stevens explained that Robertson’s drawings contributed a great deal to the development of “The Age of Adz”; he apparently found in Robertson something of a kindred spirit.

Or consider the female dancer-vocalists, dressed in what can only be described as spacesuit-inspired leotards and tights (Stevens regularly referenced his affinity for outer space). The choreographed dances and strong vocal work of these two were a highlight of the show---especially when Stevens himself joined them during the latter half of the 25-minute “Impossible Soul.”

Or consider the two full drum kits, seated perpendicular to the audience and in front of every other musician except for Stevens himself. The proliferation of noise onstage must have been deafening; in the crowd it was delightful.

Or consider that Stevens filled out his ensemble with two trombone players, an organist, a pianist, a bassist and a lead guitarist---and all of them sang.

When the ensemble finally reached the conclusion of “Impossible Soul,” which included a long dance number in which no audience member remained in his or her seat, Stevens received a standing ovation. He grinned and rewarded his fans with what he knew we wanted: a song from his past.

When he hit the first note of “Chicago” (appropriately from
“Illinois”), the audience exploded into cheers, and when he reached the impossibly catchy chorus, we sang along.

After the curtain closed, we began our lengthy and loud request for an encore, and he rewarded us with acoustic renditions of two of his most beloved songs. The trombone players found themselves in the balcony, raining hopeful fanfares down to balance the sorrow of “Casimir Pulaski Day” (from “Illinois”), and the banjo player matched every note of Stevens’ guitar on “The Dress Looks Nice on You” (from “Seven Swans”).

Finally, Stevens dismissed the other musicians backstage, leaving himself alone to detail the exploits of serial killer John Wayne Gacy, Jr., and acknowledge in no uncertain terms that he, a music icon and the star of this and many shows, was no better. It was a beautiful, poignant moment, and he said not a word when he had reached its conclusion.

In the end, it did not matter whether “The Age of Adz” is the first indication of a lasting musical shift. It did not matter whether there were a dozen musicians onstage. What mattered was one man’s confession of guilt, in the presence of many---and we all cheered wildly.



New Hamilton County Marriage Licenses

Here are the new marriage licenses from the County Clerk's office: ERNEST MCKINLEY CRUTCHER, III                     KAITLYN JO ROBERTS 2455 BRIDGE CIRCLE, APT 203                       2455 BRIDGE CIRCLE, APT 203 CHATTANOOGA, TN 37421           ... (click for more)

John Shearer: Barbara Bush Visited Chattanooga At Least 6 Times

As Americans are saying goodbye and paying their respects to former First Lady Barbara Bush following her death  on Tuesday , her face has been shown numerous times on television and in newspapers.   For the last three decades or so, she was a pretty familiar face in Chattanooga as well.   A look at the files in the local history section of the Chattanooga ... (click for more)

TBI Puts Man Who Killed 4 At Waffle House On Its "10 Most Wanted" List

A man who killed four people and injured two others at a Waffle House near Nashville on Sunday morning is still on the loose and has been added to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation's ‘Top 10 Most Wanted’ list. He was identified as Travis Reinking, 29, of Morton, Ill., was arrested last year when he was in a restricted area at the White House in Washington, D.C. Reinking ... (click for more)

Dayton Teen Arrested After Running From Deputies On Highway 60; Passenger Caught With Drugs

Hamilton County Sheriff deputies caught up with a Dayton teen who drove off at a high rate of speed on Highway 60 on Sunday afternoon. A passenger in the vehicle was caught with drugs. At approximately  5 p.m. , deputies observed a white Chrysler 200 traveling south in the 7800 block of Highway 60 at a high rate of speed. The driver was improperly passing other vehicles ... (click for more)

Teachers Have Good Compensation Compared To Other Taxpayers - And Response

Hamilton County experienced a property tax increase of about 10.7 percent in 2017. By law the reappraisal of property shall not increase tax revenue. So after the reappraisal the state certified millage rate for Hamilton County was 2.4976 per hundred dollars assessed value. The county commission voted to raise the millage rate to 2.7652 per hundred. That's about a 10.7 percent increase ... (click for more)

Roy Exum: Always Know The Facts

I adore the fact so many of America’s high school and college students are very active in our battle against violence in our schools but bemoan the fact that when you combine youth and ‘lack of experience’ they often are misguided and ill-informed. The best example came on Saturday when a reporter for Campus Reform walked around the Cal State-Santa Barbara campus asking the students ... (click for more)