Consider it truth in advertising. The full name of Sufjan Stevens’s new tour is “The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice.”
Accordingly, it was a merry mess decked out in gaudy Christmas garb when Stevens brought the show to Royale Thursday night, for a performance that sold out weeks ago.
Stevens is a nut for Christmas, particularly after the way his New Age parents raised him. He told the crowd that while his friends got sugary goodies during Christmastime, he was given a cinnamon stick because it was good for his breath and mental health.
Since then Stevens has held Christmas on high, recording several albums of holiday music, including the new “Silver & Gold.” He’s got the festive spirit to pull off a juggernaut tour like this. Taking the stage in an outfit with enough spangle and sparkle to make Liberace blush, he introduced himself as “Captain Christmas” and led his six-piece band in a kamikaze concert that gleefully teetered between the solemn and the silly. It was hard to resist.
Behind Stevens and his band was a massive wheel with an assortment of song titles. Known as the Wheel of Christmas, it spun around throughout the night, landing on tunes such as “O Holy Night” and “Jingle Bells.” A pamphlet with song lyrics helped ensure the intended singalongs, and the crowd came ready to join in, dressed in Santa hats and holiday sweaters.
True, it was jarring to hear Stevens toggle between heartfelt originals (“To Be Alone With You,” “Silver & Gold”) and cornball classics (“We Need a Little Christmas”), but it somehow worked. The evening’s most inspired moment, and the one that tied it up in a pretty red bow, came just before the encore. It was a collision of Christmas and indie rock: A chant of “I’m a Christmas unicorn!” morphed into a snippet of “Love Will Tear Us Apart,” to which you thought: Yes, you are. And yes, it will.
Singer-songwriter Rosie Thomas was essentially the show’s court jester, both as an excitable member of Stevens’s band and as the opening act as her alter ego. As Sheila Saputo, the lovable loser clad in oversize glasses and a neck brace, Thomas delivered 20 minutes of haphazard stand-up comedy in which Sheila was always the butt of the joke. Realizing it was the day before the would-be apocalypse, she detailed her own end-of-days wreckless behavior: “I adopted 69 children. It doesn’t matter. They’re not gonna come.”