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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sufjan, Surfjohn, Suph-yawn Stevens at the Egyptian Room

Posted By on Wed, Dec 12, 2012 at 12:08 PM

click to enlarge Christmas Sufjan - SUBMITTED PHOTO

I think I got my job at NUVO because of Sufjan Stevens. No, really. I was sitting in an interview with the editorial team, getting ready to try and prove myself as the right person for the Music Editor position - and nervous as all hell.

So when they asked me what my favorite concert experience in Indy ever was, I was momentarily stumped. That is, until a memory descended upon me, so clear and beautiful and pure that it was remisencent of those wonderfully creepy Pensieve scenes in the Harry Potter movie adaptations (you know the ones).

It was 2006 and I was 17 and in the Center Grove Marching Band (I'll wait for the wild applause for my high school activities to cease before continuing). That year, we were supposed to compete in the BOA Grand National Regional Championship in Louisville, but nasty weather rained out the competition. I, truthfully, wasn't that shattered. But I did have a perfectly good Saturday night to fill.

Literally moments later, I received a call from my good friend and former bandmate who let me know that if I could get to the Murat in ten minutes, she would be saving my seat at a Sufjan Stevens concert. She, a devoted line-waiter and certified concert crazy person, had been waiting all day at the doors.

click to enlarge Me, second from left, at the Sufjan Stevens concert at the Hilbert Circle Theater in November 2010. - KATHERINE COPLEN
  • Katherine Coplen
  • Me, second from left, at the Sufjan Stevens concert at the Hilbert Circle Theater in November 2010.

I made it Downtown in 11 minutes, after screeching into a parking space and sprinting to the front of the line to join Leigh, just before the doors opened. And then, madness. I remember dashing up the massively wide stairs on the way up to the Egyptian Room - lined with seats for this show - and, perhaps, getting a little elbowy with my fellow sprinters on the way up. (This of course is something I wouldn't do at the wise old age of 23, now, but in my defense, I was 17.)

We claimed two prime seats, front and center. It was the Illinoise tour, and Sufjan took the stage dressed as The Majesty Snowbird and introduced his backing band as the Chinese Butterfly Brigade. It was majestic. I've never seen a more magnetic performer before or since. He began with a swelling, orchestral rendition of "Sister," which transitioned seamlessly into "The Transfiguration" and then "The Lord God Bird."

But after emotional, grandiose renditions of favorite tracks like "Chicago" and "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades is Out to Get Us!" (and bits of story-telling between tracks), Sufjan stripped down for an encore of one of his most cultishly worshipped acoustic tracks, "The Dress Looks Nice on You." Lucky first-rowers like my friend and I swarmed up to the edge of the stage staring up at the man who can make music so big and grand and so small and personal and warm. I left laughing, breathless and invigorated - and so happy I wasn't in a marching band uniform in Louisville.

click to enlarge Sufjan at the Hilbert Circle Theatre - SCOTT HALL
  • Scott Hall
  • Sufjan at the Hilbert Circle Theatre

I've seen Sufjan again since then - at the Hilbert Circle Theater after lucking into another pair of front row seats from another extremely beneficent friend (to say I'm lucky in friends would be a severe understatement). We waited in a line that stretched around the block on one of those fall days that shocks the body with temperature changes, and then seems laughably mild when you look back on it from the mid-winter. The Hilbert was filled, buzzing and reverent simultaneously. This was, of course, after the release of The Age of Adz, a departure in a career full of departures, that led Sufjan to bring on painted-faced modern dancers and a swirling video screen. But he closed, once again with "The Dress Looks Nice on You," stripped of his neon visor and facepaint. The crowd joined him again against the edge of the stage - me in the front, wrapped in again.

I have the opportunity to attend a lot of concerts in this position, and it's one of my small, unspoken fears that the experience that can mean so much in the moment will get swallowed into the mass of musical memories labeled "Concerts 2011" and filed away in my brain. It's odd to me, though, that two Sufjan concerts, years apart, stick so vividly in my mind, bookmarked by the same song and the same unusual circumstances: the kindness of friends and the overwhelming stage presence of such a pop music auteur.

click to enlarge Sufjan in 2006 on the Illinoise tour - THE BRUTAL HIPSTER
  • The Brutal Hipster
  • Sufjan in 2006 on the Illinoise tour

So, what I'm trying to say, I guess, is that Sufjan Stevens is coming here again this week - Friday, to be specific. Expect something different from his two past shows here, however, because it's Christmas-fied. Sufjan loves Christmas - the fact that he's released 10 full volumes of Christmas songs and scheduled an entire tour supporting them should clue us in on that. He's asked us to review his releases before the show so we're ready for the sing-along. Rest assured, I'll be ready. And it's my turn to bring a friend.

And he appears to love Indy too - his record label Asthmatic Kitty is here and he selected Indy musicians Oreo Jones, Tony Styxx, The Proletarians, Mr. Kinetik and DMA to be part of his Christmas hip-hop mixtape. Listen to that mix below. And Indy loves him right back - in fact, this week organizers released over 1,000 more tickets after bumping the Friday show from Deluxe to the Egyptian Room. So, it's back to the Egyptian Room for me, this time with a Christmas sweater and some reindeer antlers, to see if I can recreate the Sufjan magic one more time.

And, as for the job, I'm not sure if it was my breathless retelling of the Sufjan show that came from nowhere that landed me this position. But, I've got the job - and another Sufjan show to go to!

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