I'm fairly convinced that Sufjan Stevens is a genius. I'm also convinced that he's a pretty weird guy, and that he's aware of this. Last night, after stumbling over some lyrics early on in his new epic 12-minute holiday masterpiece "Christmas Unicorn," he wryly said, "Who wrote these lyrics, anyway?" Oh yeah, and let's not forget that he was wearing an elaborate unicorn headdress festooned with balloons and feathers at the time.
I certainly had high expectations for Sufjan's concert at the Beachland, where I'd seen him twice previously. Both were great shows, and I was excited to see him perform his holiday music, which I love. That's something I never would have thought I'd say as recently as a few years ago. I can't say that I ever had any particular fondness for Christmas music before I started listening to Sufjan's Songs For Christmas collection. I fell in love with the first five disc release, both for the beautiful renditions of traditional carols and (especially) for some of the best original songs of Sufjan's career. This year he came out with the second five disc set. It's easily even more ambitious than the first, and I'm beginning to feel that it's just as great. So Cara and I headed over to the venue a half hour before doors opened, hoping we'd be able to get a decent spot near the stage (last time we'd been near the back), and fortunately, the line was not yet too long when we got there.
I knew beforehand that the show was going to be quite a spectacle, but when I walked into the ballroom, my eyes instantly widened at what I saw. The stage was all decked out in holiday cheer, and that was nice enough, but to the left of the stage...
You see, the first concert I ever attended at the Beachland was Sufjan Stevens on September 13, 2005. (I know the exact date because we have a poster from the show hanging in our apartment. I didn't actually buy the poster at the show, but found it at a local shop years later.) Not only was it my first concert at the Beachland, it was at that point in my life that going to concerts became a "thing" that I did. In a sense, it was the beginning of a new era in my life. At that show seven years ago, Sufjan was touring his breakthrough Illinois album, and last night's encore was quite Illinois-heavy, including "John Wayne Gacy, Jr.," another one of those heartachingly beautiful songs on which Sufjan's voice and lyrics do things that no one else's can. As I stood there, I couldn't help but think of being in the same room, hearing the same music more than seven years ago, and of all the ways my life had changed since then. In a way, it was like things had come full circle.
After playing "Come On! Feel the Illinoise!" Sufjan said he thought they had time for one more song. I was silently hoping for one song in particular, and when he laid down the opening notes of "Chicago" on piano I was overjoyed. "Chicago," after all, was the song Cara and I used for the recessional of our wedding, and now we were standing together, perhaps ten feet away from Sufjan Stevens himself, seeing the song performed live. (Amazingly, earlier this year we also got to see a live performance of our wedding's first dance song, Bowerbirds' "Northern Lights.") Talk about a perfect way to end the night!
During the show, some of the stage banter included joking about how the world was supposedly going to end in a few days. And I thought to myself, if the world were going to end, this was a good concert to go out on!
I'm the Christmas Unicorn. You're the Christmas Unicorn too.