Pop Montreal Demands More Sujfan Stevens
The house lights came on. And so did the house music. Sufjan Stevens had just given the Montreal a stellar set culminating in crowd-pleaser "Chicago." He'd even come back on stage for a (mostly) solo encore of the haunting "John Wayne Gacy." But the audience wanted more. They shouted. They whistled. They chanted one more song. And by "they," I mean "we." I was as eager as anyone to hear some more. It was a phenomenal show, and we all wanted it to keep it going. It had been too long since we'd heard anything new from one of the most original voices of the decade. So more than half of the small room stayed and yelled and clapped and stomped long after that usual moment of defeat when the bright lights told us Stevens was done.
The Michigander by way of New York has a pair of new orchestral projects out, The BQE,
a film and musical soundtrack for his peon to the Brooklyn-Queens
Expressway, and Run Rabbit Run, a reinterpretation of his album Enjoy
Your Rabbit by the Osso String Quartet. But the new songs he performed
offered an even better glimpse of where Stevens is creatively. And it's
a rather noisy place.
The down-tempo "Impossible Soul" included a Stevens guitar solo that would be right at home alongside Nels Cline or Jeff Tweedy. Both it and "Majesty Snowbird" were as much song-suites as rock songs with quiet-loud-quiet movements stealing from Stevens' symphonic experiences. And "The Age of Adz" is heavy on the atonal noise, making good use of the 20+ pedals scattered across the front of the stage. The band let all three songs develop for nearly 10 minutes a piece.
But the six-piece band also deftly handled older material like "Detroit," "All Delighted People" and "Holland." And my favorite of his songs—the beautifully sad "Casmir Pulaski Day" was as chill-inducing as ever. Nedelle Torrissi of opening band Cryptacize from Stevens' Asthmatic Kitty label lent her lovely voice to most of the songs.
It had been a good 10 minutes since Sufjan left the stage after "John Wayne Gacy"—at least five minutes since the house lights came on. It didn't look like our devotion was going to pay off. But the pleas became celebratory screams as the folks up front noticed the full band making its way back onstage. During the bonus song, Stevens had to stop and try to remember the lyrics. We didn't care. We just cheered him louder.
Paste editor-in-chief Josh Jackson is currently in Montreal covering the 2009 Pop Montreal festival. You can follow his account of the festival on Twitter @joshjackson.
Best Discovery of Pop Montreal (So Far): Holger
Pop Montreal Report: The Mystery of Fever Ray
Watch Three New Sufjan Stevens Songs