The Big One arrived from London on Thursday so we could go and see the incredible Sufjan Stevens play at the Manchester Apollo. I was introduced to Sufjan's music with the brilliant album 'Illinois" a veritable feast of orchestral American folk.
He has since released an album, 'The Age of Adz' that could be best described as Intergalactic Pop which, until his gig I was unfamiliar with. I had listened to snippets and been a tad put off by all the synthesised style but listening to him perform it with his terrific band really changed my mind.
With an incredible blend of earnestness and witty self awareness, he explained the inspiration behind this album (a seemingly huge departure from his previous work), that his parents had raised him to believe they were Star People, visitors from another planet, here to inhabit a human body and experience life on Earth.
And my goodness, he really put on a show, the music was still epic and complex, the costumes were...neon, the backing singers doubled as hipster dancers with some pretty endearingly odd routines, reminiscent at times of moves children create in their living rooms to perform for their parents. His keyboard player looked like something out of Hair, the musical. There were incredible visuals heavily featuring work by a schizophrenic artist called Royal Robertson which were so beautifully animated I felt quite mesmerised while floating away on his musical star journey.
At times it was peculiar, even verging on uncomfortable at the finale. He was so engrossed, so entirely in his own world, seemingly unaware that the audience hadn't reached the same state of musical euphoria but it was always engrossing, always brilliant.
My favorite part was the encore section, he came back out dressed normally having shed his day-glo space man all-in-one to play some of his biggest folk pop hits. At the start of his final track, "Chicago" without explanation, he put on a red striped helmet, some white bubble sunglasses, his tin foil wings and as the balloons were released from the ceiling, he danced. This time we were all dancing and as I watched this awkward musical genius who had bravely played tracks we weren't really there to hear, as I watched him dance in his helmet and wings, I felt so moved by his sense of freedom. It was like watching a little boy who was so awkward outside of his talent become liberated within his own world.
I realised I was crying, it was so beautiful and it felt so special to have been permitted to witness it. We may not have 'got it' all but I think every one of us in that audience recognised his genius and appreciated him sharing it with a crowd that probably observed more then we got involved. It was impossible to deny how incredible he is and how magical the world he lives in is. It's very much his world but it was great to visit if only for a little while.
|c/o The Guardian|
|c/o The Guardian|
"I don't think my music is important, I don't think it's changing the world, I don't think it's art. I just think it's music. It is what it is."