Photos: Sufjan Stevens @ the Chicago Theatre (Chicago), 4/25/15

Sufjan Stevens‘ latest release, Carrie & Lowell, wrenches the heart. Named for his late mother, who suffered from bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and substance abuse, and his step-father, who serves at the helm of Stevens’ label, Asthmatic Kitty, it tackles childhood, death, and the myriad of emotions that accompany both, as well as the search for peace in the wake of loss. As the artist told Pitchfork of the self-proclaimed “artless” release, “This is not my art project; this is my life.” That sentiment came to life at The Chicago Theatre Saturday night, as Stevens trekked through all of Carrie & Lowell and then some during a 20-song set that proved a far cry from the artists’ last stop in the Windy City when he brought his “Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Tour/Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant On Ice” to the Metro, complete with inflatable decor, unicorns, and a giant “Wheel of Christmas” from which he built his holiday sing-along setlist on the fly.

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And while a Yuletide concert sounds like a spiritual affair, Saturday’s show—with its serene scenes and touching home videos splashed on LED screens that resembled panes of stained glass—felt like church. The new songs were presented both as they sound on the album with Stevens solely plucking a guitar but were also gifted to the audience in much fuller forms, as the artist’s four-piece band swelled the sound, particularly for the pre-encore finale of “Blue Bucket of Gold.” The assistance of Dawn Landes on backup vocals (to whom Stevens dedicated “The Dress Looks Nice on You,” the only song from Seven Swans he played that night) added additional levels of delicacy and beauty. And, fittingly, the pick-me-up at the end of the emotional show came in the form of Stevens’ most recognizable track to date, “Chicago”, a special song to hear live always, but especially in a theatre of the same name. As the singer appeared to wipe a few tears from his cheeks at the end of the night, so did much of the audience. All things go.

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Setlist:
1. Redford (For Yi-Ya & Pappou)
2. Death with Dignity
3. Should Have Known Better
4. Drawn to the Blood
5. All of Me Wants All of You
6. Eugene
7. John My Beloved
8. The Only Thing
9. Fourth of July
10. No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross
11. Carrie & Lowell
12. The Owl and the Tanager
13. In the Devil’s Territory
14. Futile Devices
15. Sister
16. Blue Bucket of Gold
ENCORE:
17. Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
18. Casimir Pulaski Day
19. The Dress Looks Nice on You
20. Chicago

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