Who knew that Sufjan Stevens would be bringing an all-out jam to the Oscars?
“Jam” might be a slight exaggeration, given the 2- to 3-minute slots that Best Original Song contenders are usually squeezed into when they’re performed on Academy Awards telecasts. But Stevens has suddenly raised the bar of anticipation for his Sunday night appearance by announcing that he’ll be joined on his nominated tune, “Mystery of Love,” by an oddly disparate group of fellow singer/songwriters, united only in being as critically acclaimed as he is: alt-rocker St. Vincent, alt-bluegrasser (and Garrison Keillor successor) Chris Thile, and alt-soul man Moses Sumney.
Mum’s the word on what this trio of marquee names will be adding to Stevens’ performance of his “Call Me By Your Name” song, but St. Vincent is known as an electric guitar shredder and Thile as a not-so-electric mandolin master, and Sumney could well prove an ideal vocal harmonizer, as might the others. In some ways, their respective profiles have been as high as Stevens’, at least before the Oscar nominations. The 2017 albums from Sumney and St. Vincent both appeared on Variety critics’ year-end best lists. Thile, who performs with the Punch Brothers when he’s not on public radio, draws a large audience every week as the host of “Live From Here,” recently retitled from “A Prairie Home Companion.”
A rumor had circulated shortly after the nominations were announced that not all of the nominated songs would be performed this year, and that Stevens’ tune would be one of those left out. Some observers looked back to the Oscars of 20 years ago, when another acoustically inclined indie rocker, Elliott Smith, appeared alone on stage with his guitar to quietly sing “Miss Misery,” puzzling much of an America that was still primed to get their Debbie Allen on in those slots. Of course, the parts of America that didn’t go to “Call Me By Your Name” and don’t follow contemporary music may still be puzzled by “Mystery of Love,” but it won’t be for a lack of firepower on stage.
Also announced as joining Stevens on stage are long-time members of his band, Casey Foubert (who is also a member of the Shins) and James McIlister. But even a couple of the guests who are better known as front people in their own right have strong Stevens connections: Annie Clark, aka St. Vincent, started out in Stevens’ band in 2006, not long before her own star began to rise. Sumney, meanwhile, was the opening act in 2015 on Stevens’ “Carrie and Lowell” tour, anticipating his own entry into the canon of critical favorites.