In 2012, Sufjan Stevens’ mother passed away. One of the ways he coped was to trawl his childhood memories and pour his sense of loss into this year’s album ‘Carrie & Lowell’, titled after his mother and stepfather. It’s a gentle, detailed and honest work of devastation and healing that has drawn many of the best reviews of the prolific Michigan musician’s often staggering career.
Personal though its songs are, Stevens’ world tour, making a rare British stop-off at the Dome this evening (four years since he headlined The Great Escape here), finds him reliving them night after night. He’s performing them with generous intentions, attempting to share his death experiences with our own, but it’s a sometimes difficult deal.
The darkened stage glows orange and red, smoke swirls and Stevens and his small band begin a soft, piano led prelude, ‘Redford (For Yia-Yia And Pappou)’ from early record ‘Michigan’. The audience cheer his entrance, and some holler and whoop, which feels a bit odd as we’re about to be immersed in stories of his bereavement. It’s a truly devoted crowd though, one which hangs on every whispered word for the intense hour and a half that follows.
Without acknowledgment or explanation, Stevens fills the set with the entirety of ‘Carrie & Lowell’, and more besides. While there are heavier elements to the album live (‘All Of Me Wants All Of You’, with its brutal “You checked your texts while I masturbated” admission, is the first of several songs that he whacks a pitch-bending, prog rock synth solo over), the music is mostly uplifting. The solo voice and guitar of ‘Eugene’ is as sweet and simple as Simon And Garfunkel but the sentiments (“What’s the point of singing songs/If they’ll never even hear you?”) are shadowed by mourning.
A lengthy encore of brighter, older songs (‘The Dress Looks Nice On You’, ‘Chicago’) follows, Stevens chatting happily with the crowd at last, sharing tall tales of his “astro-hippie” parents and their menagerie of damaged and abandoned animals. We needed the contrast and, we suspect, he did too.
Dome, Friday 4th September 2015
Words by Stuart Huggett