Sufjan Stevens Live Review | Live Concert Photos | November 6, 2015 | Dr Phillips Center | Orlando, FL | Photo by Brian Schanck

Sufjan and Drake | Sufjan Stevens Live Review & Concert Photos | Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts | November 6, 2015

by • November 24, 2015

I’m not going to lie. This review has been a challenge to write. Not because I’m a bad writer or my heart wasn’t in the music. Actually, it’s quite the opposite. I love writing! It’s always been a passion of mine, second only to music. I think, for me at least, when I finally got to see one of my favorite artists live for the first time, the pressure hit to write a review that would do the live performance justice. But, Sufjan Stevens’ show in Orlando, FL at the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts can’t be fully described in this or any review, no matter how talented the writer. The whole performance was just too spectacular and emotional to be transcribed. It was truly a performance that you’d have to experience.

I got to my seat just in time as the house lights turned off and the opener took to the stage. He didn’t even introduce himself as he dove into the first song. There was a confidence spilled across the stage as he captivated the audience and demanded their attention. Eventually, he introduced himself as Gallant. He threw his body around as if he were being possessed, jerking this way and that to the music. Gallant is more than just an R&B artist. His voice has soul, and he let the audience know. For me, one of the highlights of his set was when he sang “Weight In Gold.” The vocal melodies sounded like they came straight from heaven as he went into his upper register. Gallant would then grace the stage with his moves. He knew exactly how to work the stage and audience. By the end of his set the women in the audience loved him and the men wanted to be him. His performance was just pure sex!

Sufjan Stevens Live Review | Live Concert Photos | November 6, 2015 | Dr Phillips Center | Orlando, FL | Photo by Brian Schanck

Gallant left the stage to the thunderous applause of his many new fans. As the house lights came back on, the show production team started their preparation for Sufjan Stevens’ set. I looked around the audience as I waited. Sufjan Stevens has a tendency to bring out people of all different ages, which you don’t see too often at concerts. In my general area, the diverse audience included a mom and her daughter, a young couple, an old couple, a college group, and myself and my best friend. It was refreshing to be in an audience that wasn’t concerned with the façade of it all. Everyone was there purely because they enjoy Sufjan Stevens and the music he makes.

The house lights shut off as the audience roars to life with the excitement of Sufjan’s presence. The stage was dark. A piano started playing the chords to “Redford” off of Michigan. Voices filled-in the angelic intro to the performance. The song faded and went right into “Death With Dignity” from Carrie & Lowell. A single spotlight shined down on Sufjan’s on guitar with crystal-shaped screens showing home videos. The backdrop that created an intimate feel. From here, Sufjan seemed to follow the Carrie & Lowell track listing. “Should Have Known Better,” followed with a blue aura created by the lights and the ocean visuals depicted on the screens. One of the night’s highlights for me was “Fourth of July.” The song has a particular depth to it as Sufjan talks about the death of his mother. In fact, death and despair was the reoccurring theme of the night.

At times, the audience was eerily silent. The lyrics and beauty of the music and performance left the audience speechless. “Fourth of July” was one of those instances. Sufjan started the song on piano, illuminated by a single spotlight as if it were coming down from heaven. The lights eventually lit up the rest of the stage as the harmonies came in. Towards the end of the song, Sufjan and the band sang, “We’re all gonna die,” repeatedly with more intensity each time as more instrumentals came in and the lighting became more erratic.

Sufjan Stevens Live Review | Live Concert Photos | November 6, 2015 | Dr Phillips Center | Orlando, FL | Photo by Brian Schanck

Sufjan Stevens broke away from his Carrie & Lowell track listing to play two songs from The Age of Adz much to my enjoyment. “Vesuvius” and “Futile Devices” brought a little bit of a different feel to the performance. It was a transition to Sufjan Stevens’ more electronic influenced days that was greeted warmly by the crowd.

“Blue Bucket of Gold” came next, as an end to the main performance, which was another one of my highlights. The song appeared to end at one point, until the instrumentals and faint vocals picked back up. The rotating, disc ball-like lights circulated along with the music casting an atmospheric vibe throughout the venue. The lights spun as if they were searching for someone; they felt very otherworldly to me, UFO-like. The drums kicked in with full force and the music became more sporadic. The lights circulated faster and faster as the music increased. Eventually, the room calmed to complete silence and darkness.

Sufjan Stevens and his band took their stance center stage when the house lights turned on. They each took their bows to thunderous applause. As each left the stage, the standing ovation continued with tumultuous applause. We all waited in anticipation for Sufjan’s return for the encore. He made us wait several minutes before he and the band reappeared to the roaring and restless audience.

The encore included older songs from Sufjan’s library including: “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois,” “Heirloom,” “Abraham,” “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.,” “To Be Alone With You,” and “Chicago.” The crowd loved every second of the old songs. The start to each caused a cheer of approval from the audience. After the first encore song, Sufjan finally addressed the audience for the first time that night during the almost 2 hour set. He talked of all the different histories in the room and how important it was to share his music with us. “Chicago” came as the second to last song of the performance and received the loudest reaction by those who were probably waiting all night just to hear Sufjan’s greatest hit.

Sufjan Stevens Live Review | Live Concert Photos | November 6, 2015 | Dr Phillips Center | Orlando, FL | Photo by Brian Schanck

The very last song of the night was an unexpected one. Sufjan made it a point to the audience, he wanted to leave them in a positive mood and not weighed down by the emotions of his songs about death and despair. He brought Gallant out as they dove into “Hotline Bling,” originally sung by none other than Drake. Not the most obvious choice to end the performance, but the crowd was feeling it. We all needed a little pick-me-up out of the melancholy and deep emotions Sufjan’s songs left us with. Sufjan and Gallant looked like they were just having fun with it, and so was the audience. The older demographic didn’t entirely know what to make of it as Drake’s face was plastered on the screens, but the younger audience members got out of their seats and fully embraced the cover. Sufjan awkwardly danced, and I remember thinking that he should just stick to making music, but it was nice seeing a different side to him at the end of the performance. Sufjan succeeded in using Drake to leave the audience in high spirits after a very emotional set. It allowed the audience to rejoin the real world without feeling completely drained and weighed down by the heaviness of Sufjan’s performance. The only song everyone seemed to be singing as they were leaving the venue was “Hotline Bling.”

Sufjan Stevens’ performance was one to cross off my concert bucket list. His first show in Florida ever was one I and the rest of the audience will never forget. His performance added a different depth that isn’t heard on his records with choral voices, electronics, emotive strings, and percussion that played well along with the crescendos and lights as the songs would hit their climax. His live show truly brought a different element from their recorded counterparts. I will say it again as I said at the beginning of this review, it was truly a performance that you’d have to experience!

Sufjan Stevens Live Review by Megan Malsom, edited by Matthew Weller.
Sufjan Stevens Concert Photos by Brian Schanck

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