Sufjan Stevens Slows Down at The Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, Delivers One of The Best Shows of 2015

Photo by Jason Gonulsen

Words and photos by Jason Gonulsen

There weren’t many disgruntled fans after last night’s Sufjan Stevens show at the Peabody Opera House. But there was at least one, and he was just steps ahead of me.

“Do you know how Sufjan spells his name now after a performance like that?” he said.

“Suf-y-a-w-n. Yawn yawn yawn,” he concluded.

So he didn’t get it, or he got it and still didn’t like it. But I get that.

This is the most personal we’ve seen Sufjan Stevens — after a lengthy break from St. Louis, mind you — and it’s also at his most quiet. And while Stevens isn’t a rager, it’s also not as if his former records were whispering his diary like Tori Amos might (note: that is totally not a dig at Tori; I l-u-v me some “Winter”).

So, yeah, his latest album, Carrie & Lowell, which came after the death of Stevens’ mother, can be a frustrating transition for some. And perhaps it boiled over when Stevens dedicated most of the first set to new material.

But that also makes sense to me. This is clearly a tour to showcase a very personal collection of songs, and it’s some of Stevens’ best work.

Its best song, “Fourth of July,” had an extended outro last night, repeating the line “We’re all gonna die,” with each mention feeling like distant, approaching thunder.

Stevens mentioned finally visiting the Arch the day prior, telling the audience that he watched the “making of the Arch video in the basement.”

“They’re still showing the same video from like 1965 or whatever,” Stevens said. “It’s so beautiful and hopeful.”

This was one of the best shows I’ve seen in 2015 because it wasn’t trying too hard, wasn’t interested in being different, and each note felt incredibly sincere. Even when Stevens talked to the crowd, each word felt genuine.

And the best moment might have happened during the set closer, “Blue Bucket of Gold,” when a combination of noise and visual art made you wonder what was going to happen next.

Kinda like Sufjan Stevens himself.

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