Sufjan Steven’s struggle with Christianity is no secret. Religion is a theme that permeates every inch of his music – implicitly or otherwise. Bouts of revelation are tinged with a dark underside of death, melancholy, and broken souls. I’m personally not a religious man, but seeing Sufjan perform was a transcendent and holy experience. Every aspect of the show was cloaked in iconography; from the video displays set up subversively like stained glass windows depicting the stories of his life, to the roving beams of white light illuminating Sufjan and the masses witnessing his sermon. To step into QPAC was to step into St Peters Basilica.
The performance centred on the narrative of his latest record, Carrie & Lowell; a story of life and death, and the love he shared with his mother & father. Opening with ‘Death With Dignity’, Sufjan brought the crowd immediately into the painful headspace of the record. He was a strange figure on stage: a man clad in black (wearing a death metal tee), with a green trucker cap tucked into the back of his jeans. Of course, his musical ability was astounding – he bounced from one instrument to the next with ease and comfort. And the live renditions of typically bare tracks like ‘All of Me Wants All of You’ were brought to life in unexpected and inexplicable ways.
The key moment of the show was the ending to ‘Fourth of July’ – a particularly morbid track about the death of his mother. The final lyrics of the song – “we’re all gonna die” – repeated for what felt like an exhausting 30 minutes, as the band and Sufjan built the coda into an angry, passionate rage. It was impossible to not feel incredibly insignificant whilst Sufjan screamed “we’re all gonna die” with such purpose that one would believe death would come when the song ended.
The encore took on a more relaxed vibe. Sufjan changed out of his black outfit into an orange tee and flowing parachute pants to perform an acoustic set with the band around one microphone. Here Sufjan delved into his archive of beautiful songs, closing with the famous ‘Chicago’ and joined with the support of the beautiful and talented Australian singer Ngaiire.
Most importantly, Sufjan gave it everything he had – at one point wiping away tears in remembrance of his parents. To bare oneself so painfully in front of an audience should be commended. How he does this night after night I will never understand.
Reviewer - David Simmons