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Sufjan Stevens at The El Rey in Los Angeles

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Come on feel the Illinoise

The El Rey Theater in Los Angeles was stop #2 for Sufjan Stevens’ Illinoise Tour.

I had considered going to the opening show in Solano Beach, which was the night before, but my friend, Owen, who works for MTV in Santa Monica, suggested that I come up to Los Angeles and we’d go together.

I’m glad that I went to the L.A. show.

Owen found out on Friday that MTV had scheduled to shoot this concert and I was able to tag along with him and the crew. There were two video cameramen, a summer intern and Owen – and me. “Tagging along” with the crew meant that I got a striped orange wrist band that allowed me to get around the venue and really see the show. It ended up that the two digital cameras that I brought with me were put to use to capture still shots, so I actually got put to work. I enjoyed getting pretty good shots, despite the low light and the fact that I’m not a photographer!

The doors were scheduled to open at 8. We got in early and met Daniel Gill, who is the publicist for Sufjan and Liz Janes who also performed tonight. Bunky also played, but I don’t know if Daniel is their publicist. He told me that he handles other bands that were not there tonight including The Danielson Famile.

Daniel spent some time teaching Owen and me how to properly pronounce Sufjan’s name. It is pronouned in three syllables: Suf (pronounced like Sufi – with the “i” pronounced as a hard “e”) and jan, which is pronounced similar to the word “yawn.” (That’s a close approximation.)

I have a lot of impressions about Sufjan and the show, which was awesome.

Singing Sufjan.jpg

The first impression is that they are not “performers” – in the LA “rock star” sense of the word. Let me explain. Each is an exceptionally talented musician. Whew! The talent is incredible and versatile. That was very clear throughout the show. Sufjan’s music is demanding, in the singing and in the playing.

I was impressed that the musicians appeared to be a community and not merely a collective of musicians. They are friends and it was clear that they enjoyed being together. It was apparent that the relationships with each other mattered a great deal. And, perhaps I’m reading too much into this, but there was a certain “shyness” to each of the musicians, including Sufjan. Also, having access to the entire venue allowed me to meet some of the friends who came along with the band. They had the same intentionally personable quality.

When I took the photo of Sufjan just before he went on stage, I asked him if it was ok to do so because I was standing so to him, and I didn’t want to assume that it was ok. He was very cool about me taking the photo, but it was clear that he wasn’t looking to be photographed.

I had a great vantage point being along side the stage. The music wasn’t as loud because I was behind the speakers, which allowed me to actually hear the music.

Also, I saw a lot. Sufjan appeared to be a bit nervous. His legs shook a lot throughout the show. But he was great. He had total command of his voice and of the audience.

I also noticed that he was on his tip toes a lot during the concert.


About the music:
Sufjan played almost all of Illinoise. He coupled John Wayne Gacy, Jr. from Illinoise with A Good Man is Hard to Find, from Seven Swans. That worked well for me, particularly because of my passion for Flannery O’Connor.

The music held together really well. This show also showed that the band isn’t overly produced. The sound was true to the cd. I’m glad that I knew the cd so well because I was able to sing along to my favorite songs. I could see the audience doing the same. In fact, as I told my friend, Owen, I felt that people in the crowd were more than fans of Sufjan Stevens. At least in the front, there was devotion to Sufjan.

One of the MTV crew members was a summer intern who had just graduated from college in Virginia. He commented on his surprise that the crowd (which was somewhere around 600 people or a bit more, I think) was so young. They appeared to be mostly undergraduate university students, although there were people who appeared to be in their late twenties, and some older – not many, though.

I hope that you’ll get to see Sufjan Stevens and the Illinoise Tour.

I did take these photos. You may use them non-commercially and with attribution. Thanks!

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About Roland

  • DrJimmy

    thanks for the review, Roland. awesome. i’m wondering if the band was able to re-create the fullness (or grandness) of some songs like “Come on Feel the Illinoise.”

    Did they have enough musicians/instruments to do that? Or did many of the songs sounds slightly “stripped-down” (like the KCRW session)?

  • Thanks for the comment. Actually, I was amazed at how “full” and “true” they sounded. Most of the musicians played MULTIPLE instruments – and the stage was “crowded” with musicians!

  • Micah

    Really, thanks for the review and pictures. Any chance that you know when this concert will be on MTV?

  • I’m not sure when it’s going to air – but I think that this will be a segment on MTV News and not a replay of the show.


  • I see him in Salt Lake tonight. Thanks for the words … sooo excited.

  • Joseph

    I didn’t stick around for the Sufjan show because I thought the opening acts were so bad. Its not just that they were bad but unprofessional about it, too. I left at 1030 and Sufjan had not even gone on. It was his chance to break LA and instead he had people on their cell phones saying things like “I heard the reviews sounded good, but for god’s sakes his opening acts are jokes.” They forgot his opening acts are jokes on his label AND unprepared to open for him. I like being introduced to new music but the flow of the concert and concern for the crowd is MAJOR in my book. And if Sufjan cared about either, he wouldn’t have promoted bands on his label. I couldn’t stick around for Sufjan because I was angry that I had spent 2.5 hours standing without any real sense of involvement in the music and performances on stage.

    Perhaps if I had gone for free and allowed backstage, my own personal excitement could have overwhelmed the sense that a three ring circus had come into town without a ringmaster.