As much as I liked the 2005 Sufjan Stevens album Illinois — and as much as I enjoyed the concert I saw by him last year at Metro — I had trouble working up much enthusiasm for seeing him this week. Maybe it was because his new album of Illinois outtakes, The Avalanche, is tepid. But he’s undeniably a talented guy, probably a genius at arranging strings and incorporating them into pop music, so this was certainly a worthwhile concert. The cheerleaders from last year were gone, but there was still a sense of spectacle. The 15 musicians backing up Sufjan wore butterfly wings, while Stevens had big bird wings (and wore a feathery bird mask over the top of his head for the opening two instrumental songs). It was postively Peter Gabriel-esque (in a 1972 Genesis sort of way, that is). And then there was that little rooster figure that was sitting on a stool near Stevens throughout the show, which he claimed they’d stolen from a Perkins restaurant earlier on the tour.
This concert focused less on the Illinois songs, but those were the ones that won the biggest applause here in the Prairie State. As I did at last year’s Sufjan concert, I sensed something amazing happening with the music scene. It’s so encouraging to see thousands of young people getting excited and enthusiastic about sophisticated orchestral folk music. I don’t think the worshipful Sufjan cult will necessarily result in a lot of other artists making similar music, but I hope it signals a new willingness to embrace music with unconventional arrangements and musical sophistication that goes beyond the Blink-182’s of the world.
I’m probably one of the few people at this concert who was there mostly to see the opening act, My Brightest Diamond, but I’m hoping this wonderful artist (aka Shara Worden) will soon be attracting a lot more fans of her own. The debut album by My Brightest Diamond (both the name of her band and her stage name), Bring Me the Workhorse, is one of 2006’s most outstanding albums, full of haunting, intimate and intelligent songs blending a deep knowledge of classical music and opera with punk attitude. I had the great privilege to meet with Shara Worden before the concert tonight and interview her for a forthcoming article, and her performance did not disappoint — except for the fact that it was so short, just six songs. She’ll be back at Schubas on Nov. 11, though she apparently won’t have the string section that she was able to borrow from Sufjan Stevens at this show. In any case, don’t miss her the next time she’s in town.