Shortly after I took my seat in St. Andrew’s-Wesley Church, Sufjan’s band, looking like they were on their way to a masquerade ball, swept past me and took the stage. They were all clad in hospital-green track pants, beige button-up uniform blouses with red trim and gold buttons, technicolor butterfly wings, and feathered masks of all shapes and designs.
As they took their places, instruments in hand, a strange sound like that of a UFO landing played in the background. The band began to play an orchestrated intro piece, with female vocals blissfully harmonizing with the violins.
Suddenly the band stopped, and it was just Stevens and his piano. His voice carried a strain of beauty that I’ve never experienced before, and each note graciously welcomed the next. As Stevens emerged from behind the piano, his wings spread and spanned twice as far as his fellow musicians. His scruffy brown hair and dark features give him a strange allure.
A few songs in, Stevens told us a story about how his parents used to be really infatuated with National Geographic, and would wake him up in the middle of the night to tell him and his siblings about these great ideas they had that involved them starting a farm and being home-schooled. Later he spun another tale about a summer he spent at camp with a boy named Franco, and a “Predatory Wasp” that hunted him ruthlessly. The laughter unified us all, making the woman two aisles down feel like an old friend.
Sometime during the set they all removed their masks, but I was so intoxicated by the music reverberating off the vaulted ceiling that I didn’t even notice. It only became apparent to me when I saw one of the violinist’s foreheads gleaming like the finish on his instrument. They were all working up quite a sweat keeping the music flowing.
The newly unveiled song “Majesty Snowbird”, like many of the other songs played that night, featured a booming orchestra, quiet melodic vocals and harmonies, and a definite magical quality. Even though many of his songs are similarly composed, the intricate details in the lyrics and instrumental flourishes set them apart from each other. Each one accompanies the one before it, and is the perfect prelude to the next.
Over the course of the evening, Stevens made us laugh with stories from the past, bob our heads, and feel that we were witness to something truly amazing. Walking into Saint Andrew’s not knowing much about him, I was completely won over. The audience rose and the church filled with cheering, clapping, and the rumbling of hundreds of hands banging on the pews. Nobody wanted to say goodbye.