Live Reviews

Live Review: Sufjan Stevens at Royal Festival Hall in London on 13 May

By | Published on Tuesday 24 May 2011

Sufjan Stevens

Picture the scene: a crowd full of people with their hands in the air, swaying slowly to the sound of music that lifts and lifts and lifts, a man in the middle of it all, white crooked wings tied to his back, his outfit bright and grand. It sounds like a pastor – no, an angel – addressing a crowd of worshippers, and he has them all in rapt attention. Sufjan Stevens is the man at the front of the crowd. He isn’t an angel. He’s not even a pastor. One thing’s for certain, though: he’s brilliant.

At the centre point of a set that’s so colourful and visually alive, with its silver rockets, neon tape, backing dancers and two enormous drum kits, it’s a wonder that Sufjan stands out from it and does not allow anyone – or himself – to be distracted by it at any point during the show. Sure, my eye wanders to the big screen behind him every so often, but that was kind of the point – each song is beautifully illustrated with an animated or photographed story, from the official stop-motion video for ‘Too Much’ (which features our young hero body popping in a Nike tank top and Kanye sunglasses, something, as a long worshipping fan, I never thought I’d see), to the absolutely beautiful hand silhouettes and floating stars that turned the atmosphere from a sweaty hipster party to a children’s fairytale. And not to forget ‘Get Real Get Right’, which was heavily contextualized with a fascinating slideshow before its performance while Sufjan told us the main inspiration of ‘The Age Of Adz’ – Royal Robertson, a preacher and artist from the deep South who believed he was sent to Earth to prophesise the very galactic end of it, who told stories about angels with lasers shooting out of their eyes (something that reminded me of a very childhood-scarring scene in ‘The NeverEnding Story’).

Running well over the two hour mark, Sufjan offers us mainly new material which I must say is a treat to hear live. ‘Adz’ is a magnificent album but it really comes to life onstage. Watching the backing dancers – and Sufjan himself – move in choreographed dance to the songs is at once amusing, bewildering and brilliant. It adds to the atmosphere, which was undoubtedly one of sheer joy. It calms down in places as he plays some old favourites and self-proclaimed ‘folk songs’, including the incredibly beautiful ‘Concerning The UFO Sightings Near Highland Illinois’ and ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’, a song so incredibly close to my own heart that I found myself shedding a tear or three. ‘Chicago’ plays us out – of course, what else would it be? Confetti explodes from the stage and a mass of multicoloured balloons spill from over our heads. At the end, Sufjan Stevens is standing on the tallest point in the centre of the stage, something that should be precarious and clumsy, but with him – well, it just isn’t. He’s graceful, he’s owning it. He’s absolutely and utterly worshipped. TW