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Bring on the dance party

By Brian Slepian

Section: Arts

November 19, 2010

An awe-inspiring, euphonious, spiritually rapturous indie-folk techno-pop dance party—if you’re short on time, that gives you a pretty good idea of Sufjan (SOOF-yahn) Steven’s latest stop in Boston on Nov.11 and 12. Debuting his latest album, “The Age of Adz” (make sure you pretentiously pronounce it “odds”), his show was just as much a surprise for Sufjan fans as the marked shift in his music.

The performance began with DM Stith, a guest member of Sufjan’s band, who doubled as the opener, allowing us to hear a different side of Stith’s work. The most striking quality of his performance was his use of looping: a one-man act, he recorded his live vocals and looped the audio over itself, switching back and forth between microphones, layer upon layer of moving harmonies. The gradual crescendo of Stith’s layers echoed the crowd’s anticipation, and by the time he left the stage the eagerness was palpable.

Sufjan came on stage banjo in hand, with his 10-piece band and complementary dancers close behind, and set the mood with a staggering performance of “Seven Swans.”

Anyone in attendance who stays up on his or her Sufjan-related news, or is secretly in love with him/stalks him online, was shocked by his level of charisma as the show continued; he may well have been high to shake off his characteristic shyness. He went on to interact with the audience throughout the show, ranging from musings to rantings to strangely personal information.

In fact, after pleasing the crowd for about an hour, he decided it was his turn to be entertained, and what seemed to be 20 minutes of self-indulgence followed as he recounted the story of Prophet Royal (no, it’s not worth your time to look up).

While some familiar with his earlier works, such as “Illinois” or “Michigan,” think that the new album is “Too Much,” its manifestation on stage disappointed no one. Audience members were treated to Sufjan’s quirky, new agey dancing and possibly drug-induced stage presence, performing new tracks such as “Vesuvius” and the wild 30-minute “Impossible Soul,” as well as bringing his new style to old favorites like “Chicago.”

Confetti gushed out on the Orpheum’s dancers on those nights and during “Chicago” balloons of varying size were let loose on the in-seat party. During the encore break the audience in the orchestra section seemed to be ambivalent as to whether or not Sufjan was coming back, sufficiently entertained by the balloons, and everyone was satisfied with the two-plus hours that he performed.

When he returned to the stage, the change in energy was mirrored above. The buoyancy of “Chicago” shifted when “Casimir Pulaski Day” came on, as the smaller balloons settled and the audience’s spirit floated with the occasional massive balloon with size to match the song’s emotion.

The show left the house with a residual high, songs still playing in heads as a throng of hipsters with balloons flooded the T. More than a week later, don’t be surprised if you hear someone singing “Vesuvius” around campus.

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