Sufjan Stevens’ latest full-length offering Age of Adz represented a rather startling departure from his previous work. Gone are the banjos and alt-folk sensibilities of old; replaced by a chaotic, cacophonic odyssey of electronica, vocodered vocals and the subtlety of a bull covered with strobe lights. It’s a glorious, ridiculous mess of an album, demanding a suitably insane live show to do it justice. Luckily, that’s exactly what we get tonight.
Extrapolating the grandiose technicolour vision of Age of Adz to every element of the show, Sufjan’s live set-up gives the Flaming Lips a run for the money for eye-popping extravagance – psychedelic projections, dancers, angel wings, confetti, a surplus of neon face paint and at one point a costume incorporating a spinning mirror ball.
In contrast to the Lips, there’s no undue reliance of backing tapes. As stunningly immersive as the visuals are, it’s the band that ultimately make the show – from the majestic swell of brass during ‘Seven Swans’ to the intense choral chanting of ‘I Want To Be Well,’ the eleven musicians deliver everything from spectral harmonies to high-energy disco with impeccable skill and vitality. ‘Vesuvius’ is a personal highlight, but there is nary a song in the entire two-and-a-half hour set that sounds less than astounding.
Sure, Sufjan’s tendency to rabbit on gets a bit frustrating at times – his erudition carries him for the most part, but he’d be well served to bear in mind the maxim “less talk, more rock” (works best in a Brooklyn accent.) And the artist’s own disdain for retrospection notwithstanding, a few more old school tracks wouldn’t go amiss, especially given his five year absence from these shores.
But these are the most minor of minor quibbles. Being at the front of the Royal Festival Hall as it descends into a confetti-strewn dance party during ‘Impossible Soul’ is an experience that few other gigs could ever hope to match, and that’s not even to mention the riot of balloons and communal off-key singing that mark set-closer ‘Chicago.’
Stupidly, breathtakingly, self-indulgently, sublimely brilliant, Sufjan Stevens just raised the bar for what a live show should be. Let’s hope it’s not another five years before see him again.
All photographs by Anika Mottershaw