You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Sufjan Stevens

An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, "Illinois" (Asthmatic Kitty).

With:
Band: Stevens, Craig Montoro, Jeff Shoop, James McAllister, Shara Worden, John Ringhofer, Liz Janes, Bridget Decook.
Also appearing: Liz Janes, Bunky.

An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty).

It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some idea of Stevens’ grand ambition. In concert, everyone onstage was bedecked in black T-shirts emblazoned with an orange “I” and matching orange sweat pants (with the band’s three women adding pom-poms), and Stevens studded his hourlong set with cheers for various cities (“Jacksonville: Athens of the West!”); he comes across as the next great American eccentric.

There’s certainly a Whitmanesque attempt at broad, sweeping gestures. “Illinois” is filled with unexpected roadside attractions: UFO sightings, captured alligators, parades, monuments to comicbook heroes, the 1893 World’s Fair. Frank Lloyd Wright, Carl Sandburg (who asks, “Are you writing from your heart?”), Stephen Douglas and Abe Lincoln make appearances, as, in a haunting ballad, does John Wayne Gacy.

Filled with baroque arrangements, attenuated melodies, lyrics filled to the brim with language and incident (a typical song title: “Decatur, or, Round of Applause for Your Stepmother”), the songs never quite get beyond a canter. Go too fast, you might miss something.

Stevens is the perfect tour guide: filled with stories about the places he’s been, willing to accept and find interest in whatever comes around the next corner.

That almost Zen calm makes its way into his songs. They wend their way through spare folk to gloriously ornate passages. Bits of Philip Glass’ early minimalism can be heard in “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!”; a touch of Sun Ra can be heard in his electric piano, while the gentle vocals put one in mind of both Damien Rice or Belle and Sebastian.

While Stevens can sometimes tread perilously close to the precious, it’s understandable why he has been championed by the McSweeney’s crowd and NPR. But there’s thankfully no sense of put-on or hipster irony in his show. Stevens is the real thing, and it will be thrilling to watch his talents develop and ripen.

Stevens plays Gotham’s Bowery Ballroom Aug. 19-21.

Sufjan Stevens

El Rey Theater, Los Angeles; 771 capacity; $14

Production: Presented by Goldenvoice and KCRW. Reviewed July 16, 2005.

Cast: Band: Stevens, Craig Montoro, Jeff Shoop, James McAllister, Shara Worden, John Ringhofer, Liz Janes, Bridget Decook.
Also appearing: Liz Janes, Bunky.

More Scene

  • NMHC Impact Awards

    Aubrey Plaza, NHMC President Call Out Under-Representation of Latinos at Impact Awards

    An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty). It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some […]

  • 'Seven Seconds' TV show premiere

    Regina King Talks Heaviness of Role in 'Seven Seconds'

    An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty). It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some […]

  • UnReal Athena Film Festival

    How Trump Beating Clinton Impacted the Gender Politics of 'UnReal' Season 3

    An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty). It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some […]

  • 'Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and

    'Unsolved' Stars Point Out Racial Injustice in Biggie and Tupac Murder Cases

    An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty). It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some […]

  • Taura Stinson, Common, and Diane WarrenVariety

    Common, Pasek and Paul, Diane Warren Reveal Inspiration Behind Oscar-Nominated Songs

    An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty). It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some […]

  • 'Game Night' film premiere

    'Game Night': Director, Writer Talk 'Straddling Genres' and the Influence of 'Get Out'

    An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty). It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some […]

  • Esquire 'Mavericks of Hollywood' party

    Terry Crews on His Sexual Assault Lawsuit: 'If I Don’t Get Justice, Nobody Can'

    An odd sense of serenity surrounds singer-songwriter Sufjan Stevens. Onstage at the El Rey Saturday night, he appeared almost preternaturally calm, a blithe ringleader of a seven-piece band performing songs from his new album, “Illinois” (Asthmatic Kitty). It’s the second installment in a promised series of albums celebrating all 50 states, which gives you some […]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content