There are many different approaches a band can take when performing thier live act. One of those is the gimmicky approach. The approach where you use the bells and whistles to attract attention and keep attention when the product itself may not keep the attention of the consumer on its own. Well, Sufjan Stevens and the Illinoisemakers where in town last night and they brought thier gimmick to the stage at the Southgate House. The gimmick is the Illinois theme, the 50 states project, which, according to the opening song is all “part of the act”.
Boys and girls alike dressed in thier Illinois cheerleader garb fully equipped with pom poms and bright orange I’s across thier chests. They even perform real cheers. I wonder if Stevens and his mates had to get a few tips from cheerleading sqauds to pull some of this off. “This time with spirit” is heard coming from the stage during one of the pre song cheers and the names of sitcom stars Balkie Bartakamous and Webster Papadapolous are even uttered as part of the cheer leading up to “The Man of Metropolis Steals our hears”.
And what about all of this gimmick turns me off? What can SS be attempting to accomplish with this carefully thought out gimmick? I have to say that I loved every minute of it. It was an enhancement to the show when it easily could have been too much. But the real reason we came to the sold out venue to see them was for the music, and the music was much larger than the gimmick.
Sufjan Stevens seems shy onstage, there isnt alot of interaction between himself and the audience, though in his eyes he seems to be having the time of his life. He and his noisemaker entourage were quite comfortable on stage however and showed this on so many of the great tracks from “Come on Feel the Illinoise”. “The Predatory Wasp of Palisades” made me take notice. A track that may not find you as quickly as it should being slated 15 tracks into the album. “Jacksonville”, “Chicago” and “Casmir Pulaski Day” were also quite good as were many others.
He came out alone for an encore, sporting a t-shirt for Laura Viers, the opening act. And the crowd stared with the expectation of the haunting “Josh Wayne Gacy” which had yet to be played. I admit, its what I hoped for and expected. However, SS instead launced into and whisper with “To be alone with you” from Seven Swans and I have to admit it was brilliant. And so, all gimmicks and cheers aside, Sufjan and the Illinoisemakers put on quite an impressive and memorable show.