Sufjan Stevens at The Helix – Review
With Dublin being the first stop on his European tour, Sufjan Stevens is understandably a little jet-lagged. This is probably why he forgets some words to a couple of songs and can’t remember what fret he normally puts his capo on for another. Fortunately, road crew and band members are on hand to steer him back on track and these minor hiccups are managed in such an endearing way that they enhance the whole experience rather than do anything to the spoil the show. They’re the only flaws of the whole evening; a special night that is perfectly kicked off by the outstanding Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear.
The mother and son duo from Kansas have been building momentum over the past year or so and will have won over a few more fans in the Helix with a great set. Their bluesy folk, sung with gospel voices is fresh yet timeless; with songs such as ‘Dead Daffodils’, ‘Live By The Water’ and the stomping call and response of ‘Whole Lotta Problems’ leaving a lasting impression on their first Irish audience. They also reckon we do the best fish and chips on the continent – take that, rest of Europe!
The warm up is great but the two hour main event is just astounding.
Leaning heavily on his superb new album Carrie & Lowell, Stevens and his band of multi-instrumentalists deliver a breathtaking assault on the senses. Songs such as ‘Death with Dignity’, ‘Eugene’ and ‘Drawn to the Blood’ are raw and achingly beautiful, requiring little embellishment. ‘Fourth of July’, ‘John My Beloved’ and ‘Blue Bucket of Gold’ build from sparse openings to exhilarating, electrically assisted crescendos. ‘Blue Bucket of Gold’ in particular features a swirling, hypnotic outro that seems like it’s going to pop eardrums and blow speakers as it rattles through the bones of the audience.
Given that the album deals with the death of Stevens’ mother and the difficult relationship that he had with her, it’s not surprising to see him wipe his eyes on more than one occasion. It’s emotional stuff, heightened by the old home movies that are poignantly projected on to the stage throughout the show. It isn’t just on stage that eyes are being wiped and lumps are forming in throats as a stunning album is given a few twists but retains its emotional core.
This is thanks to the superb group of musicians that Stevens has assembled, who are outstanding all night, swapping between instruments and delivering breathtaking backing vocals. He even manages to make a recorder sound good at one point and they always sound rubbish.
After a brief interlude, Stevens returns to the stage wearing his trademark baseball hat – a symbolic nod to his back catalogue which he draws from to close the show. ‘To Be Alone With You’ is beautiful once he sorts out that tricky capo issue and ‘Casimir Pulaski Day’ receives warm applause from its opening notes. A rather wonderful rendition of the ever popular ‘Chicago’ is the final reminder of the superb canon of music that Stevens has to draw on.
As good as his body of work has been though, it’s the emotive power of his new material that makes tonight’s performance such a special one.