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Sufjan Stevens is telling us that he was a bit too ‘cerebral’ with his approach to song writing once upon a time, with words perhaps being too political or constrictive and easily given over to manipulation, unlike the more ephemeral and unquantifiable, sensual nature of movement and rhythm. To illustrate his growing fascination with more boundless forms of expression, he spends the next song jigging and twitching along like a shy uncle doing 'The Macarena' at a wedding reception. And whilst this should be goofy, it’s not. It’s just glorious. But then, this entire evening should deflate under the weight of its own absurdity. A musician most feted for his lush orchestrations and delicate pastoral hymns is dressed as, what appears to be, a giant reflective gold penis, amongst a gaudy day-glo landscape whilst being carried away by the noise of abstract electronic seizures having just given a ten minute lecture on the nights inspiration, obscure outsider artist Prophet Royal Robertson, a paranoid schizophrenic who was obsessed with the apocalypse. But tonight, it all seems like the most logical thing in the world and, without doubt, one of the most mesmerising things I’ve ever seen. This experience should be a solipsistic self-obsessed travelling Xanadu bursting at the seams from its owner’s obsessions and neuroses, but instead, as we struggle to catch our breath and believe our eyes, it just feels like the most selfless gift being humbly passed along.
To make a staggeringly sweeping generalisation for a moment, it seems like there are probably two broad responses to fear and anxiety. Crushed by the thoughts swirling around your head, you can shut off and retreat, get smaller and shy away. Or, you can go a bit nuts. Struck by the panic you can feed from it and grow bigger in using it to extinguish inhibition, because, you’re probably panicking about imminent death anyway, so live it up whilst you can. Lucky for us, seemingly having grown more aware of his own mortality and the potential for apocalypse in the last couple of years, Stevens seems to primarily be a proponent of the latter technique. There are still moments of hushed delicacy, and the likes of ‘Enchanting Ghost’ and ‘The Owl and the Tanager’ are gratefully received, but it’s the times when anxiety is looked square in the eye and shouted down in homemade skin-tight day-glo armour that are really staggering here. ‘Age Of Adz’, to pick one of these moments, is a particularly stunning beast, the crushing momentum of its beauty conspiring to make impossibly profound the potentially trite assertion "when I die, I’ll rot, but when I live, I’ll give it all I’ve got". But to pick out one moment or one song does a disservice to the fact that this was a sublime awe-inspiring show, amongst all else, gig or concert being woefully inadequate descriptions of such vast visuals, costume changes, routines and arrangements, with so much effort and care so obviously being put in by all involved to create something I find it hard to believe will be matched or bettered any time soon.
Appropriately enough, given the night’s primary subject matter, we were all due to be engulfed in the rapture nine days after this performance. The earth would crack, fires would spit, the saved would rise and the dammed would descend. The fact that I’m typing and you’re reading this means it turned out to be another over-enthusiastic prediction proved hollow. But if it does come, the end of all things, or just then next time I’m convinced that death is fast approaching or any sort of towering anxiety takes hold, I hope I’ll remember the evening’s glorious finale, throw aside the duvet cover and shake my panicked behind to the sounds of ‘Impossible Soul’ echoing around my brain, imaginary imitation balloons and ticker-tape collecting at my feet.
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