Sufjan Stevens

Festival Theatre, Feb 01

Donning glow-in-the-dark costumes and instruments, Sufjan Stevens and his band hit the stage of the Festival Theatre in an explosion of electronic sound. Bringing his latest work to an eager Australian audience, Stevens’ presented a visual and audio feast that more than satisfied.

Accompanied by a full band, the stage was set with multiple drum sets, piano, a brass section, supporting vocalists and the coolest keyboard-welding hippy you could ever hope to drag from a smoky 70's haze.

Though Stevens is traditionally best known for his narrative folk style, the artist has challenged himself in his latest work, pushing the boundaries of writing and production techniques to explore a completely new type of music.  The result is a cosmic, synthesized electronic pop soundscape, masterful but challenging to achieve live.

Interestingly, Stevens chose the sedate surrounds of a seated theatre for this tour rather than more traditional concert venues where crowd atmosphere, the push and shove of standing-room only and sheer volume can cover any difficulties with faithful album reproduction.

Opting for a sit-down audience in a serious arena was a stroke of genius however. His fans were able to simply enjoy what they had come for – Sufjan Stevens, up-close and personal. An immensely talented and dedicated artist, the show was executed with a quality that leaves you pondering whether it could possibly be live.

The venue enhanced the theatrical feel of the performance, allowing Stevens the freedom to play with lighting, sets, props and projection. Fully exploiting this, the show was graphically intense and visually brilliant.  In addition to fantastical glowing costuming, rear wall projection and a front of stage scrim lit with kaleidoscopic graphics and flashing strobes created an immersive experience where the music seemed to explode from a cosmic third dimension.

Stevens’ personality shone throughout the show. Only the hardest of hearts could fail to be captured by his corny dance moves as he performed the most endearing impression of a robot on Prozac, often in synchronicity with his equally eclectic supporting vocalists. You have to admire a guy who possesses the charisma to groove on-stage as unselfconsciously as one does in their bedroom mirror.

An intriguing and honest performer, he connected with the audience through comprehensive inter-song conversations. Divulging many of the inspirations for his work, you left feeling decidedly enriched by the shared experience and with a much better understanding of the man and his music.

Nicole Russo