Sufjan Stevens Lee's Palace, Toronto, ON October 1

Sufjan Stevens Lee's Palace, Toronto, ON October 1
Photo: Carrie Musgrave

Packed house! New songs! Horn section! Red toque over baseball cap!
Exclamatory expressions arose from the moment Sufjan Stevens took the stage.

Not many artists could raise such a fevered frenzy for tickets, but this run of 16 club shows, all selling out in minutes, proved Sufjan is still very much relevant, and perhaps reminded the humble songwriter that people are yearning for his artistic contributions.


Despite his recent admission to not having a "deep desire to share my music with anyone" (perhaps evidenced by the fact it's been four years since Illinois), Sufjan and his band, which included Nedelle Torrisi from opening act Cryptacize, introduced an abundance of new material.

The crowd stood in revered silence during the opening track, "The Mistress Witch from McClure," before a pulsating keyboard launched in to "Impossible Souls." The new song began with scant percussion and Sufjan's fluttering voice, and then the almost ten-minute opus scattered with Torrisi taking over vocal duties and the two-piece horn section making their presence known.

The meandering from sweet, Illinois-esque pop to chaotic, spacey jam sessions typified the majority of the new compositions. The back-end of "Age of Adz" broke down into beautiful dissonance, as the trumpet and trombone were seemingly cut free from restraints to explore if limits existed during boisterous runs of "improvisation."

Somewhat self-consciously Sufjan told the crowd that the new pieces tended to be long-winded (most fell just south of the ten-minute mark), but everyone stood enraptured by the offerings.

Not wanting to use his entire set to test new material, he pleased the awestruck audience with a spattering of songs from Illinois, Seven Swans and, to the crowd's delight, "Detroit, Lift Up Your Weary Head! (Rebuild! Restore! Reconsider!)" from his 2003 Michigan album.

After leaving the stage with a rendition of "Chicago," the roar of cheers and handclaps brought Sufjan back for the ever-obvious "encore." Alone with an acoustic guitar he sang "John Wayne Gacy," the haunting song about the American serial killer. But instead of leaving on that eerily striking note, he unravelled one more new song, "Too Much Love." The dance-worthy jazz styling, which Sufjan gave credit to Miles Davis for, undoubtedly had everyone leaving in worship of the display of beauty just witnessed - and praying it doesn't take another four years too see him live again.