A symphony of sound from Stevens

Sufjan Stevens onstage at the Orpheum. Sufjan Stevens onstage at the Orpheum. (Matthew J. Lee/Globe Staff)
By Sarah Rodman
Globe Staff / November 12, 2010

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At one point during his fantastical explosion of a performance at the Orpheum Theatre last night Sufjan Stevens described what was happening as part future, part hippie, part ’80s, part Lady Gaga, part Lindsay Lohan. but all him. He joked that he was working on it in therapy.

That doesn’t even begin to describe the breadth of the two-hour-plus show. As Stevens and his impeccably rehearsed and arranged band of 13 burrowed into the intricacies of his latest album, “The Age of Adz,’’ an avalanche of ideas, sights, and sounds both minuscule and mountainous, ecstatic and elegiac came barreling at the sold-out crowd.

The pendulum swung from the frothy, melodic hooks and keyboard bloops and squiggles of “Too Much’’ to the hushed acoustic crooning of “Futile Devices’’ to the dramatic choral surges of “Vesuvius’’ as images flashed by on a center screen and Stevens wriggled in and out of costumes.

To his credit, it rarely felt like a barrage but more a series of carefully curated soundscapes (and fun dance routines . . . and confetti blasts . . . and balloon drops). Some songs were catchy and insistent, others formless and atmospheric, but they shared a tender heart.

As layered as the evening was — trumpets piled on synthesizers and tangled with ethereal harmonies and elaborate drum patterns on the epic, 25-minute “Impossible Soul’’ — Stevens kept things clean and moving, his honeyed vocals a consistent thread through the sonic maze and his articulate between-song banter a good palate cleanser.

That banter occasionally threatened to become monologuing— a dissertation on outsider artist Royal Robertson, the inspiration for the offbeat jam “Get Real Get Right,’’ was fascinating but long-winded. Still it was hard to begrudge an artist so open, funny, and thoughtful.

Stevens went to his best-known album, “Illinoise,’’ for his set closer, a buoyant “Chicago,’’ and the encore, a sublime, harmonious “Casimir Pulaski Day’’ with the rapt crowd serving as choir.


At: the Orpheum Theatre, last night (repeats tonight)