Friday 21 October 2016

Review: Sufjan Stevens at The Helix

Sufjan Stevens
Sufjan Stevens

He's got all the right moves, does Sufjan Stevens.

The voice of an angel; the finger-plucking skills of a guitar prodigy; arms like Madonna (we'll explain later); a spare cap in case the one on his head falls off - is there nothing this man hasn't thought of? It's that first one that defies belief. Great Scott, the Michigan lad has a phenomenal set of pipes on him - a whispery, bedtime-story kinda groove that makes everyone swoon.

Sufjan Stevens, in case you were wondering, is the hipster god that everyone can get in on. Beard-scratchers and plaid warriors love a bit of Sufjan, who's been trading in heartbreak, whimsy and baroque eccentricity for seven albums now. His latest release, the critically-adored, folk-tinged Carrie & Lowell, is something of a musical eulogy to his late mother (Carrie). His stepfather is part of the tale, too (Lowell). Crikey, it's beautiful.


But this isn't Bon Iver territory we're in. Oh no, Sufjan doesn't care much for falsetto overkill. He does, however, tug on the heartstrings via family home videos, spread across split screens as he introduces the enchanting Death with Dignity. By the time this is all over, our humble maestro will be the victim of one too many over-romanticised critiques. For once, we'll have to join the fold.

Jaysus, the dude got to me. Tonight, our handsome ringleader (alternating between six strings and eight; piano and a flute, etc.) is in sublime form. We're even willing to look past the weird stuff. The crouching pedal-pokers. The MacBook. The wizard with the mini-keyboard. The Vogue-like choreography on Vesuvius. The wondrous melody-making is what's important. That, along with the fact that Sufjan is well and truly lost in the set, celebrating his family memories with both splendour and grace.

"All of me wants all of you," he sings. Sweet, right? Later, his band (a remarkable gang of players, including the great Dawn Landes) forms a scary choir on the explosive Fourth of July. "We're all gonna die!" they declare. Yep, the moods change.

The lighting is beautiful; the imagery, captivating (there are disco balls and everything); the musicianship, exemplary. A concentrated Sufjan calls this a "musical extravaganza" (even if it is a full 90 minutes before the dude says anything at all). Eventually, he talks to us about magic and rainbows in Ireland (huh, so there's a reason he kept his mouth shut), dipping into his bag of 'hits' and signing off with a gorgeous rendering of Chicago. Two hours, on the dot - that's how long Sufjan's extravaganza lasts, after which the weight visibly drops from his shoulders. Relax, man. That was awesome.

RATING: *****

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