[twitter style=”horizontal” float=”left”]

[fbshare type=”button” width=”100″]

[pinterest count=”horizontal”]

Sufjan Stevens at Hollywood Bowl 8/7/16. Photo by Derrick K. Lee, Esq. (@Methodman13) for www.BlurredCulture.com.

On the evening of August 7th, I attended a life-altering performance at the Hollywood Bowl. For years, I had dreamed to see Sufjan Stevens in concert. This would be the night when that dream became a reality.

I slowly climbed up the hill to the back of the stage where “PRESS” was being held. As I waited patiently, I noticed the wealthy parade of people arriving in their Teslas and Maserattis for valet parking, carrying in their fancy wine and picnic baskets from Gelson’s. I was feeling a little out of place when after 20 minutes, low and behold, Sufjan casually steps out of a small black van with his neon clothed band members to head backstage. Wearing a plain white t-shirt, and carrying a small guitar in a black fabric case, he looked more like a roadie than a rock star but … I was screaming internally the entire time.

Ibeyi at Hollywood Bowl 8/7/16. Setlist.I’m finally called in to take my seat, and the openers are Cuban and French twin sisters wearing red jumpsuits and heels, singing in Yoruba (an official language of Nigeria). They go by the name “Ibeyi”.

On their last leg of their American tour, they filled the air with tribal beats and melancholy lyrics about their mother, father, and their Nigerian ancestry. Their music consisted mostly of downtempo vibes, but their vocals and soulfulness provided a dynamic contrast that was both powerful and energetic.

Follow Ibeyi on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

If an image below is pixelated, please click through the “VIEW FULL SIZE” link for a better view.

Kurt Vile and the Violators at Hollywood Bowl 8/7/16. Setlist.The opening act to follow was Kurt Vile & The Violators. Some of you may know Kurt as a co-founder of the band “War On Drugs”. His current group is a 5-member band playing an entirely different tone than that of Ibeyi.

Their sound is electric and acoustic rock- perhaps something you would hear on the radio while cruising through the desert in an old Cadillac convertible, or at a 70’s barbeque in the middle of summer. Kurt’s voice has some shades of Dylan in it, but this set, for the most part, focused on instruments and instrumentals, with Kurt playing at least 5 different guitars, including a banjo.

To the delight of the Hollywood Bowl crowd, the band wrapped up their set by bringing Adam Granduciel (the other co-founder of “War On Drugs”) to the stage and together they jammed out with guitar solos, and an epic drum finish that segued to the intermission.

Follow Kurt Vile on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

If an image below is pixelated, please click through the “VIEW FULL SIZE” link for a better view.

Before I dive in to talk about Sufjan, allow me to admit that I’ve wanted to see him perform live ever since I discovered the video of him singing a cover of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” into a vocoder. I loved it so much that I used it for one of my film projects at university. That was at least four years ago.

In my opinion, Sufjan is one of the most talented, and sadly, highly under appreciated, musicians of our time. His voice sounds just as good, if not better, live. He plays countless instruments, and uses real poetry that converts seamlessly to lyrics, never having to resort to  using some catchy word or phrase on loop to be played exclusively at clubs. His overall sound is so diverse, it cannot be categorized into one genre. Rather, it fits a niche of its own, one that Sufjan has created. If I absolutely had to describe Sufjan’s music, it would be a combination of Owl City, Bon Iver, Robert Delong, Matt And Kim, mixed with a few angels, aliens, dreams, and robots, sprinkled with some Twenty-One Pilots’ lyrics. To be honest, I’m not even sure if that comes close.

This evening was his last show on his year-and-a-half long tour, and his debut at the Hollywood Bowl. Seated in the Terrace, I could finally experience his music in real time. He began with “Seven Swans”, displaying his famous angel wings that expanded high above and away from his his body. Sufjan and his band were fashioned in neon glowing tribal outfits resembling that of an immaculate rave. Contrast to his sweet song, and angelic feathers, he throws his banjo high into the air, and begins to smash it into oblivion as the stage lights go dark. This was the most intense opening to a concert I’ve ever witnessed, and was “shock art” at its finest.

Sufjan Stevens at Hollywood Bowl 8/7/16. Setlist.When the house lights came back on, he shared an intimate dream he had about God. His long-time Christian faith is something that can be found interwoven within his songs; not so much in his lyrics, but more so in a way that he layers his vocals and chorus. It was certainly heard in his opener, and later throughout his performance. Through humble “thank yous” and “let’s keep it moving”, he jumped right into “Too Much”.

The generally dark and forlorn lyrics he sings in his soft and subtle voice were contrasted by his vivacious performance art on stage. With hyperactive video projections that featured home videos, and vibrantly colored stop motion that was likely filmed in his Brooklyn apartment, the visuals on stage invited the audience to share a personal and vulnerable side of Sufjan. It made me feel like I was an estranged guest being invited into his home simply to have the pleasure of learning about my host for a few short hours. It felt as though you were seeing his spirit perform beyond his physical being. This continued as he played “Should Have Known Better” which was accompanied with the entire audience clapping and singing along. As he strummed his acoustic guitar, I had a personal epiphany. Like most people would like to have Morgan Freeman narrate their life, I think Sufjan Stevens should be the music in my dreams. His musical tone certainly suggests such fantasy.

His 17 song set-list continued with “Vesuvius”, “Fourth Of July”, and “I Want To Be Well”, where he played the guitar over his head, and jumped off the piano multiple times. He pauses after every few songs to give us life lessons:

“It doesn’t have to be so hard. Like, in life, in society, in nature there’s resistance, but we are a part of society, life, and nature. We are beautiful. We’re all gonna die, so make the most of your life. It doesn’t have to be so hard”.

I pondered this as I sat in my sophisticated box seat, and it felt like something was massaging my heart. In that moment, I felt an intense, personal connection to Sufjan and to his music; a  concert experience that is, in my opinion, rarely achieved and worthy of remembrance.

As Sufjan’s music progressed, so did his visual transformations. He shifted from his tribal costume, to a reflective jumpsuit, to a larger one that was 10ft. tall, becoming a helium balloon, and then to another balloon costume brightly colored, and nearly comical. He gave one last inspirational talk, and ended with “All Things Go”, which reminded me of the Chiddy Bang sample. The entire Hollywood Bowl joined in with this song, dancing out of their seats, and joyously singing along. He finished with a rousing performance of “For The Widows In Paradise”; that elicited a well deserved standing ovation.

The “Encore” ritual ensued, and the evening concluded with an homage to Prince as Sufjan joined Moses Sumney for a duet of “Kiss”. Ending on the highest of high notes, everyone joined in on another standing ovation.

Sufjan Stevens is not an artist screaming for attention, or filling a quota with meaningless catchy songs for a record label just to get a paycheck. He is a humble, tortured soul who uses his art strictly for his own benefit and self-expression. “Genius” is a term that gets tossed around a lot these days. Pretentious pop-stars openly and arrogantly claim to be as much, and the word, in my opinion, has lost a lot of its merit.  But, in my opinion, Sufjan is a genius. The beauty in his art is derived from his willingness to be vulnerable and exposed, and the way he does that on stage, sharing with us his creations, is something that is truly breathtaking to behold if you are willing to open your heart to watch and listen.

Follow Sufjan Stevens on … well … Sufjan don’t do social media …