Established on July 11, 1922, this elegant venue on the hill known for it’s romantic ambiance, top-notch performers, and a gorgeous sun set that casts a magical spell a magician couldn’t duplicate. Sunday was made into an even more enchanting night as one of indie-music’s most curious artists, Sufjan Stevens, made his debut appearance at Los Angeles’ Hollywood Bowl.
Sufjan Stevens and his neon-comrades take the stage in what looks like cosmic space outfits inspired by Tron. Along with dazzling visual sensation, the 41 year-old is known for embellishing his songs in a unique way, making them more robust and intricate. He and his army of space cadets did just that, as Sufjan begins the set with the delicate and bare banjo picking from “Seven Swans” to a silent crowd of over 17,000. It created instant chills with Stevens’ soft served vocals —reminiscing an angel— before transitioning to a powerful ending where drums, pianos, bass and multiple guitars kick in as Sufjan proceeds to smash his banjo to pieces, adding to the intensity.
Touring for over a year and a half in support of his critically-acclamined skeletal heart throb, Carrie & Lowell— the Hollywood Bowl being his last show— there is no signs of fatigue. If you caught Sufjan live a year ago, you would have noticed a very intimacy difference between now and then, as his performance paralleled the emotional rollercoaster from those 11 songs. But tonight was heavenly more extravagant. The psychedelia of neon costumes, bright coloring, seizure-inducing video clippings, giant tin-foil costumes that reached for the sky, and bird wings that stretched as far as the music would take you— at times, it seemed as though a circus was on stage.
Sufjan didn’t get too crazy with the setlist, as he stuck to songs from Illinois, Age of Adz and Carrie & Lowell. Every song was played to perfection, although a few songs stood out. The Charlie Brown-esque “Come On, Feel the Illinoise!” displayed it’s bubbly piano dancing, swirling whistles and triumphant horns, urging you to smile from the charming demeanor of the Detroit native. The tasteful trip-hop beats placed upon the empty spots on “I should Have Known Better” that made it haunting and complete. Sufjan even took on the 25-minute monster, “Impossible Soul” off of 2010’s The Age of Adz. The song is full of abstraction and intricacies—it’s ingredients are comparable to a Twinkie, although astronomically more nutritious. The soul-quenching of vocal back-ups, horns, sporadic drumming, fidgeting guitars, computerized construction of synth and blips and plenty of tension and release to make you go cross-eyed.
The audience devoured the 11 songs as Sufjan toyed with your emotions, having you smiling, laughing, crying and giving you goose-bumps. He departed the stage only to return with an encore, of course. Getting behind the ivory to play “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”— say that five times fast. It’s intimacy of tender pianos and the gentle “oooos” just added to your chills. He proceed to end the night with a duet accompanied by Moses Sumney, performing a cover of “Kiss” written by the late, Prince. Leaving the Hollywood Bowl with a roar of applause, on a night that could not be an better.