When Sufjan Stevens finally got around to his sing-along hit "Chicago" Saturday night at the Orpheum Theatre, he should have delivered the refrain 300 more times, like a bad kid forced to fill up the chalk board.
"I made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot of mistakes. I made a lot... ."
Stevens' noble experiment ran royally amuck Saturday. Until "Chicago" arrived 100 minutes into the two-hour show, the Michigan-reared indie-folk star focused almost exclusively on his new, semi-electronic, way-over-tinkered album "The Age of Adz." He even used Auto-Tune at one point.
Mind you, many of Stevens' previous Twin Cities gigs were warm, enlightened affairs, especially those behind his 2005 breakout album "Illinoise." Whether or not his one masterful record earned him the right to test his audience à la Neil Young, David Bowie and Radiohead, few will argue he pushed in the right direction.
The problems Saturday ran the gamut from basic rehearsal-curable glitches (botched lyrics, off-tune singing) to the core concept behind the new record. Stevens twice cited late Louisiana visual artist Royal Robertson as his main inspiration, a schizophrenic whose story he described as "beautiful, inspiring ... and tragic." Anyone who understands schizophrenia would never use those first two adjectives.
Maybe Stevens just needs to work on his wording, but other aspects of "Adz" (cutely pronounced "odds") just don't seem workable. His 10-member band struggled to make sense of such disarrayed, fragmented jams as "Get Real Get Right" and the new title track. Stevens even admitted after the latter tune, "These songs are so much work." Yeah, no kidding.
The defining moment was the Auto-Tuned section of "Impossible Soul," a sprawling but sputtering, 26-minute magnum-dopeus. Audience members let out uneasy laughs as Stevens and his backup singers dressed and danced like DayGlo teens at a '90s rave. Not a single person in the crowd got up and moved during that song or any other dancefloor-bating moments. Maybe because their jaws were stuck to the floor.
OK, so the show wasn't a total disaster. The Talking Heads-like apocalyptic groover "Vesuvius" had a heavy impact, as did the delicate, classic-sounding new tune "Heirloom." And every song benefited from the truly artful, layered video backdrop by Steven's visual ace-in-the-hole, Deborah Johnson.
After "Chicago," Stevens finally appeased fans -- who still cheered fawningly between songs -- with a normal three-song encore that included "Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois" and "Casimir Pulaski Day." They deserved much more after sticking by him.
See Stevens' set list at startribune.com/artcetera.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658