Few musicians have as much Christmas spirit as Sufjan Stevens. Though the eclectic Detroit-raised indie folk star came to prominence with the song “Chicago” from the album Illinois (part of his ill-fated Fifty States project), it is safe to say Stevens has more holiday zingers in his repertoire than even Burl Ives.
In a matter of 11 years, the 37-year-old has busted his workshop to produce 100 festive numbers, either reworkings of original classics (“Silent Night,” “Away in a Manger”) or his own unique spin on holiday anthems (“Christmas Unicorn,” which samples Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart”). The holiday project was a self-proclaimed “exercise to appreciate Christmas more,” and we’re pretty sure it worked.
Although Stevens originally gave the recordings to families and friends, he has since wrapped all 100 tracks into two neatly-wrapped consumer packages in the five-EP set, Songs for Christmas, Vols 1-5 (2006), and its follow-up, Silver & Gold: Songs for Christmas, Vols 6-10, which was released last month.
This Saturday, Stevens brings a class act of helpers to go a-caroling in The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice. Confused? Expect crazy office holiday party meets traditional carolers and brown elephant gift exchange. But if you’re looking for material from Stevens's other six full-length releases—or if you are a Scrooge—stay home. This is Christmas on overdrive with mandatory audience participation, props and gags, confetti, and song sheets (just in case you haven’t sung “O Come All Ye Children” since grade school).
Below is our playlist of Stevens’ staples we find perfect for spreading holiday cheer in Chicago. Listen at right.
“O Come, O Come Emmanuel” (Rahm, you’re invited too)
“Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” (Maybe Stevens can end our snow drought)
“Happy Karma Christmas” (We need some after this year of “records”)
“Even the Earth Will Perish and the Universe Give Way” (Be wary ye of the apocalypse)
“Did I Make you Cry on Christmas? (Well You Deserved It!)” (Said the Hostess factory)
“We Three Kings” (Perhaps one our sports teams can hold court in 2013)
“I’ll Be Home for Christmas” (A visit from POTUS perhaps?)
“Santa Claus is Coming to Town” (Now that we have Wacker Drive reopened)
The Surfjohn Stevens Christmas Sing-A-Long Seasonal Affective Disorder Yuletide Disaster Pageant on Ice plays Saturday at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St. For info, see metrochicago.com.
Selena Fragassi is a contributing music critic for Chicago.
Photograph: Denny Renshaw