There's a lot of ways Sufjan Stevens could have approached his concert earlier this evening at the University of Minnesota. I imagined a short set with one or two other musicians, a long middle section with just him and a guitar, and a handful of Illinois tracks near the end. Being convinced of this scenario made the actual experience pop like a balloon of joy when Stevens and four gorgeously employed musicians played through nearly every track off this year's Carrie and Lowell.

There was Sufjan, the guy I've only dabbled in here and there since The Age of Adz and have, apparently, really been missing. I remember hearing all sorts of rave reviews around the time Illinois came out, touting Stevens as a dude who could play like, nine instruments. When I'd finally heard his songs back then, it was clear he was an incredible storyteller, but seeing his songs live proved meditative in light and dark ways. Halfway through the set, Stevens broke off to tell us about how his family had dozens of pets and animals that died often. His clan would ceremoniously dispose of each, pray for them, and become stewards for their lives and memories.

And all year we've been hearing about him doing just that not for his deceased pets, but for his mother. A churchlike series of lights flashed not only strobes, but footage of grainy family films, ensuring that we were hearing about an honest life and childhood - and then a death. He encouraged us to meditate on our own inevitable ends, but only after he had finished such vocal showstoppers as 'Drawn to the Blood' and 'Should Have Known Better'. He spoke not a word to his adoring crowd until these tracks had been laid out. Sufjan still needs some moments to himself, and the humanity reflected in the silence between songs brightened the suicidal depths that are plunged on 'The Only Thing'.

Not stopping with raw emotion, the musical performances were equally superb, and Northrup Auditorium's sound people have that place sounding like heaven. The lead guitarist took a hell of a solo for curveball 'For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti'. On a slightly quicker 'Fourth of July', where all white lights were on Stevens alone, the lead vocals were echoed by a hidden female member evoking the ghosts that are alive all over the new record. But, the evening was also alight with love. Stevens busted out his most romantic takes on Seven Swans standouts 'The Dress Looks Nice On You' and 'To Be Alone With You'. These are songs I hadn't heard in years, and I wish I could directly express my gratitude for taking me back in time. A brandished trumpet signaled the close of the show, and 'Chicago' ignited the space. I effectively forgot about everything surrounding the song's pop culture commodification, and enjoyed it as if I was hearing Stevens's voice for the first time.

If this generation is defined more by our faults and misfortunes than our achievements and financial standing, Stevens sits nicely atop the pile of our poets. There's a duality between pride and guilt that racks 'John My Beloved' that's impossible to ignore and lovely to embrace. This guy makes incredible heart-lifting music, but still solemnly compares himself to John Wayne Gacy, Jr. in front of hundreds. Sufjan may have secrets hidden underneath the floorboards, but I'm incredibly grateful for the ones he's allowed himself to share with us.