Sufjan Stevens turned The Fonda Theatre into a Christmas wonderland on steroids last Tuesday night as he brought his spectacular show to Hollywood. If you’re new to Sufjan – he likes doing things in a big way. Two years ago, we attended his Age of Adz tour where balloons, confetti, glow in the dark costumes, and unique choreography played major roles. And way before that, he’d toured around the world in wings accompanied by cheerleaders, and etcetera. He used to get compared to Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi a lot because of these strange on-stage outfits. (We’re glad that’s not the case anymore!) We’ve been treated to bits and pieces of his silly side through the years, a side that is not so apparent when we’re listening to his classic folk songs like “To Be Alone With You” or “Romulus”. Fortunately, he let out all this silliness and childishness out for everyone to see at The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder tour. And boy, was it fun!
Beginning the show was a short stand-up set by Sheila Saputo, the lovely Rosie Thomas‘ not-so-lovely alter-ego. Dressed in a Mama Mary costume, her usual neck brace and big glasses, she delivered an almost half-hour monologue about one night stands and carnal treasure while occasionally eating snacks from her belt bag. Her job was made easier by an already pumped up and extremely anxious crowd. This made the opening set go rather smoothly with everyone in the room in the mood for a good time. Though her comedy wasn’t right up my alley, I like how she’s unafraid to expose herself like that on stage.
Sufjan soon emerged with his band and greeted the roaring crowd. He introduced himself and started with “Christmas Woman” which he could barely get through because of Rosie’s (now dressed as Frosty the Snowman) deliberate bad singing. She provided much of the silliness throughout the show. After a few Christmas songs, they made use of the Wheel of Christmas which decided what the crowd would sing along to next. Everyone received a Christmas songbook at the entrance with lyrics to a couple of Christmas classics. We thought this was a great idea because really, how many Christmas sing-a-long shows can you think of right now? It gave a sense of unity in the room and everyone sounded great too. Sufjan and Rosie provided the laughs during these segments with their witty banter and one-liners like, “I Need A Little Xanax” (instead of “I Need A Little Christmas”). “I need to grow up,” he said. “It’s like constant Peter Pan syndrome up here.”
In between Christmas songs, Sufjan played some of our favorites from his Michigan and Illinois albums as “palate cleansers”. When he picked up the banjo and started singing “For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti”, we freaked out a bit. He also did a few songs from his previous Christmas box set like “Sister Winter” and “That Was The Worst Christmas Ever!”. The climax of the show was when he put on his crazy unicorn costume which was made with a bike helmet, balloons, and lots of shiny things. Then: balloons, confetti, and inflatable unicorns flying around. A true grand exit. For the main set, that is.
The encore was nothing short of special and a well-deserved one for true blue fans who stayed through the whole thing. “I’ll play some real songs now,” Sufjan said as he went back onstage alone and started playing the piano to “Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois”. He continued with “John Wayne Gacy, Jr.”, then the band joined him for “Casimir Pulaski Day” and an amazing extended version of “Come On! Feel the Illinoise!” which perfectly concluded the night.
Catch this tour if you can because it’s truly a wonderful experience unlike any other. Bring a loved one too and dress up in your Christmas best for a chance to spin the Wheel of Christmas! OK, we are obviously big, big fans. But the show was great and we went home happy. Show of the year? For us, probably, YES.