The minute I settled into my seat at Merkin Concert Hall on Saturday night, March 12, it struck me that we’d be seeing Sufjan Stevens before the night was out. (Forgive me, I hadn’t checked Brooklyn Vegan before I went. If I had, this would have been much more than just a hunch!)
I wasn’t sure whether it would be as a member of the audience or the onstage ensemble — though I hoped for the latter. After all, the prolific Stevens has never been shy about sharing his talents with his friends. We’ve seen him hang quietly in the back of clubs like (Le) Poission Rouge, listening to the music of one of his musical idols, Steve Reich. And we’ve seen him take the stage with other friends before, including Clogs at the Bell House last March.
Sufjan did not disappoint us. He came, he played banjo and sang We Were Here, acting in his self-effacing way just any other hired musician. It was a wonderful moment and a delightful surprise. But I don’t want to sell Clogs short. The concert was delightful even before Sufjan arrived onstage.
Clogs put on a beautiful show as part of the excellent Ecstatic Music Festival. Wonderfully quirky vocalist Shara Worden, in an extremely colorful ensemble, joined Clogs to sing and play some guitar on several tunes from the latest Clogs album, The Creatures in the Garden of Lady Walton, on which she appears. The band also did some older tunes and a new song cycle, called Unattended Shadow, by the band’s violist, Padma Newsome. (Clogs’ lineup is rounded out by Rachael Elliott on bassoon and Thomas Kozumplik on percussion.)
(Sorry for the iffy photo quality, but Merkin is pretty strict about its no-photography policy.)One of the real treats of the evening, though, was the band’s interaction with the fabulous Brooklyn Youth Chorus. They performed guitarist Bryce Dessner‘s new Tour Eiffel, which was premiered at the Nico Muhly Tell the Way show at St. Ann’s Warehouse early in February. The piece’s difficult interlaced lyrics in English and French were an enormous challenge that the young people mastered superbly. This performance was my second hearing of the work, and it was more beautiful and even better than the first time.