After last week's amazing Panic! At the Disco gig I was a little apprehensive about going to see Sufjan because I've been so utterly in love with his music for so long now that I began to fear I'd hyped myself into such a frenzy that the reality might not quite live up to expectations. Still, I was in good company (Yazzle Dazzle, the lovely Ryan, and Big Bro), and due to my quick off the mark ticket purchasing a couple of months back we were in the fourth row from the front (in fact I was so quick off the mark buying the tickets that I accidentally bought them for the Thursday gig rather than the Friday one we'd all agreed to go to), so at the very least I thought we'd have an enjoyable evening.
What we actually had was an evening of such utter, unmitigated joy that I shall never forget it.
I don't know why, but I always had this preconceived notion that Sufjan Stevens would be quite a shy, withdrawn artist to watch on stage, but the reality was, much to my surprise, the exact opposite. He came on stage wearing vast feathered wings, and both he and his band wore what I can only describe as homemade Tron costumes: black clothes gleefully enhanced with strips of neon tape. He quickly introduced himself and announced "I’ll be singing a lot of songs about love and death and the apocalypse. But it should be a lot of fun." He giggled as he said it, and we were immediately won over by how humble and likeable he was.
Most of the set was made up of songs from his latest album, The Age of Adz, which I described in my 2010 Year in Reviews post as being "brilliantly mad, psychedelically bonkers and completely brilliant"; performed live it was even more so. Not only that, but Sufjan really took the time to engage with the audience, far more so than any artist I've seen in … well, ever. He paused about halfway through the two and a half hour-long set (telling us that now was a good time to "visit the restroom") to talk about how he put this album together, from the synthesiser samples that make it sound so radically different from his earlier work, to how he was inspired by the work of a self-taught artist named Royal Robertson.
He went on to talk about his unusual upbringing (naked family yoga anyone?), and how his parents told him that they were star-children. He also explained how his dancing - which I had previously dismissed as seeming to be a bit awkward after seeing youtube videos of earlier concerts - was actually a vital part of the music, how it was basically a language in itself, after which point I totally got it and even started doing it myself.
When he continued with the music he did so while wearing a bizarre crystalline headpiece with half a glitter ball attached to his chest. Moments later this was dispensed with in favour of what I can only describe as a neon chiffon wedding dress with a wig made of paper streamers. Oh, and some plastic wings. He then proceeded to run up and down the stage, waving glow-sticks and busting more dance moves.
Sufjan's crystalline costume made him look a little bit like a Tholian…
This was somehow something more than just seeing a singer I've enjoyed listening to for years perform live - it was a celebration of life, and quite possibly the closest I've come to having a religious experience; she'll thump me for sharing this, but Yazzle told me that there were a handful of times during the show where she felt like she "had something in her eye."*
It was an utterly joyous and completely magical evening, which culminated in the entire audience on their feet dancing and singing along to 'Impossible Soul,' a 25 minute-long song, before an encore in which Sufjan performed two acoustic tracks from his Illinoise album, followed by a rousing version of 'Chicago' during which he stomped around the stage wearing a monkey mask as confetti and giant balloons rained down from the ceiling.
And then, to a standing ovation, he and his band were gone.
Thinking about it now sends a shiver of emotion down my spine. I half-jokingly said to Yazzle on the way home that life would forever now be split into pre- and post-Sufjan, but to be honest it actually kills me that as I type this, over in Festival Hall he's playing to another sellout crowd. I would do anything to be there now, and I can only hope that I will have the privilege of seeing him perform again at some point in the future.
While it's difficult to truly convey exactly what it was like at the concert, I hope these videos I took give you at least a small idea of how wonderful Sufjan Stevens was.
I kid you not, if ever I'm feeling down I am just going to watch this last video to remember how great life is.
*she means crying