Sufjan Stevens’ Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice

Saturday night at Emo's East

Sufjan Stevens and the “Wheel of Christmas,” Emo's East, 12.1.12
Sufjan Stevens and the “Wheel of Christmas,” Emo's East, 12.1.12 (by Shelley Hiam)

December 1 sure felt a lot like Christmas inside Emo’s East last night. Sadly, the sold-out “Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-Along Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice featuring Sufjan Stevens” involved no ice, nor pageant, but the elaborate stage set and costumes of both band and fans took holiday cheer to the next level.

That said, the show wasn't without its bumpy moments.

Stevens fans knew opener Sheila Saputo as the bumbling, neck-braced comedic alter-ego of the singer's bandmate and indie-popular musician in her own right, Rosie Thomas. And yet, no one seemed prepared for her largely incoherent and speed-spoken “comedy” set. She got one laugh the entire 20-minute set – when she said her favorite Christmas movie was Die Hard.

After Saputo exited, the crowd grew increasingly restless during the awkwardly long break, but that disappeared immediately when, at 9:15pm, he and the band bounded onstage and launched into a crowd favorite, “Come On! Let’s Boogie to the Elf Dance!” off of his 2006 Songs of Christmas box set. Throughout the two-hour performance, he mixed and matched selections from that and its sequel, last month's 5-CD Silver & Gold, only playing two non-holiday songs during the main set, and three more during the encore.

Christmas songs were mostly chosen by “The Wheel of Christmas.” This was the giant, game-show-style spinning wheel backdrop to the stage, with song names painted on it and audience members chosen to come up and give it a whirl. Although Stevens preformed all the songs with passion, the standouts included a trippy, electronic version of “Do You See What I See,” and a fast-paced pseudo rap-punk performance of “Mr. Frosty Man.”

Even then, the Detroit-born phenomenon's acoustic guitar and piano-driven tunes won the night in songs such as “The Dress Looks Nice on You” and “Casimir Pulaski Day,” which brought much of the audience to a tearful sway. There were two equally epic endings to the evening. First, main set closer “Christmas Unicorn” turned into Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” complete with fake snow confetti bursting everywhere. Then there came the encore ending of “Chicago,” perhaps Stevens’ most famous song.

Overall, the set lagged at times, and the quiet nature of Stevens' material was largely overwhelmed in the back by talking. Yet the sing-along nature of Christmas carols provided the audience with much merriment even if it meant less Stevens. Ultimately, he performed with a quiet honesty and typically excellent showmanship that made one wish Christmas came more than once a year.

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Sufjan Stevens, Sheila Saputo, Rosie Thomas, Frosty the Snowman, Joy Division

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