Simon, Stardust, Sufjan Stevens
Written By Michael Wood Thursday, May 19th, 2011
Sufjan Stevens at Apollo, Manchester
For the initiated imagine this: Paul Simon and Bowie circa Ziggy Stardust collaborating and neither being prepared to compromise. That is Sufjan Stevens.
An acoustic guitar and a sweetly pitched voice verbalising esoteric lyrics Stevens is the man who performs songs with titles like Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois and lyrics which reflect that deliberate curiosity he stands at the front of the stage of Manchester's Apollo and communicates something small and private to his audience. His audience significant too, he is a cult for sure, but a sizeable one.
But those moments are interleaved with an utterly constructed, garish, and in the very truest sense of the word awe inspiring show which begins with Seven Swans and Stevens sporting a pair of Swans wings that recall the horrors of David Peece's Red Riding as much as any dreaminess. There is neon on the stage, and dancing girls who danced just the right side of unprofessional to maintain the general edge of unease.
There are videos and curious artwork. There are lights and balloon. It is - frankly - unexpected. Much of it stems from the experimental electronic music of The Age of Adz which clashes viciously with (Come On Feel The) Illinoise and at the heart of the contradiction is Stevens. Cutting away from showmanship with hints at irony but never reveals itself Stevens delivers a cover of R.E.M.'s The One I Love at whisper quiet volume.
It is the tension at the heart of Stevens' duality which is so fascinating. He is neither the shoddy showman nor the simple acoustic artist or he is both but the violent clash is awesome to behold.
Breathless, and unlike anything else.
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