When Sufjan Stevens’s Michigan Militia marched onto stage at Detroit’s Magic Stick on Wednesday night, the audience knew exactly what to expect. The Militia was clad in Michigan scout uniforms, complete with American flag bandanas; Sufjan himself arrived wearing a flag as a cape. It would have been easy for the audience to expect a quirky, ironic concert, but no one could have expected the concert’s perfect fidelity, or the way it matched, and even exceeded the crisp production of Stevens’s most recent albums.
The Militia opened with an “Animaniacs” style exploration of the 50 states, with Sufjan pledging to write a new record about all of them for the next 50 years. His most popular and acclaimed album, however, is about his home state of Michigan, making Wednesday’s concert more like a victory celebration than just a stop on the tour.
The crowd seemed to sense this and was very respectful of Stevens’s softer songs, occationally providing quiet background vocals. The suprise of the night was that most of the songs were anything but soft. The Militia thundered through normally flaccid songs with a sense of urgency that was juxtaposed with their soft message and Stevens’s quiet, purposeful vocals.
After listening to the two most recent Stevens records, the idea of a live concert seems dubious. Many would think that the wooshing desolation presented on “Michigan” would be impossible to duplicate live, even with the most respectful of audiences, yet the Militia suprised the audience again. No part of either album was sacrificed. And, the newer songs are of an entirely different style, all fixated on Stevens’s newfound love of America (a lumbering cover of “The Star Spangled Banner” was perfectly composed).
Sufjan’s trademark spirituality was never presented haughtily in front of the audience. Before “He Woke Me Up Again,” Stevens whispered, “This is a song about how my father woke me up in the middle of the night,” without mentioning if the father who woke him requires a capital “F.”
The only downside of the event was the page of song lyrics that Stevens read from for most of the night, but this can be forgiven. After all, for lyrics as important and poetic as his, it would be the greater crime to slur a single word. Stevens’s homecoming tour was suprising in its quality, clarity and fervor.