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Review: Sufjan Stevens' gorgeous wonder

By Todd Leopold
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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Sufjan Stevens has been described as childlike, and the opening of his concert Wednesday night at Atlanta's Fox Theater fit that depiction to a T.

The stage of the Fox, a 1927 model of movie palace luxury, was decorated as if for an elementary school pageant. Silver tinsel streamed from the rafters on either side of a movie screen, and the instrumentation on display included a toy piano, bells and triangle.

And then there were the musicians, including a small string and horn section, who entered wearing butterfly wings. All except for Stevens, who wore the wings of a large bird.

But then he sat down to play, and childlike gave way to wondrous and magical.

He sang about his hometown, Detroit. He sang about ivory-billed woodpeckers. He sang about John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer. He plucked a hollow-backed banjo and shook the bells and let the rich textures of the strings and horns wash over his wispy voice, creating a sound that evoked impish games, lonely prayer, 19th-century porch swings and the quietude of a land before it was rent by the roar of machines. At times it even sounded like a spirit observing from above, the ghosts of settlers remembering.

It sounds, somehow, like America.

That's appropriate, given Stevens' "Fifty States Project," his puckish plan to write an album for each of the 50 U.S. states. So far he's done "Michigan" (2003) and "Illinois" (2005), which -- given the rate of release -- means he should be finishing around 2100, when he'll be 125 years old.

But for an audience listening in 2006 -- and the Fox, the largest hall Stevens has ever played, appeared almost filled to its 4,600-seat capacity -- he had plenty to offer. Stevens plays most of the instruments on his albums, but live he let the sound spread out around him, even indulging in some piano-banging cacophony as the strings placidly bowed behind him.

There was a bit of unexpected cacophony early in the show when a faulty microphone connection squawked in defiance, but the performers quickly regained their equilibrium.

Near the end of the show, Stevens launched into "Chicago," perhaps the punchiest song in his catalog. As he sang the double-edged refrain, "All things go/All things go," the audience sang along.

"I made a lot of mistakes," goes another lyric from the song. On this night, not even close.


Sufjan Stevens is touring in support of his albums "Michigan" and "Illinois."


September 23: Indianapolis, Indiana

September 24: St. Louis, Missouri

September 25: Milwaukee, Wisconsin

September 26: Chicago, Illinois

September 28: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

September 29-October 1: New York, New York

October 9: Los Angeles, California

October 10-11: Berkeley, California

October 13: Portland, Oregon

October 14: Vancouver, British Columbia

October 15: Seattle, Washington


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