Sufjan Stevens began the first of two sold out weekend shows at the recently renovated Kings Theatre in Flatbush with “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” from 2003’s Michigan. A ghostly 3-part harmony segued into “Death With Dignity”, the opening track from his latest album Carrie & Lowell, and the rest of the record flowed from there in its entirety.
Sufjan is a man who feels things more intensely than your average person and is in tune with raw, primal emotions that translate brilliantly into his music. Carrie & Lowell, a return to Sufjan’s folk roots, continues the ruminations on love, death, and hopelessness that he began on last year’s Sisyphus collaboration alongside Serengeti and Son Lux while also honing in specifically on the passing of Sufjan’s mother and his struggles to cope with the loss. He holds nothing back, and it was tremendously brave of him to share such personal songs in front of a 3,000-seat theatre. He seemed overwhelmed at one point during “The Only Thing”, missing a line and pausing to wipe something from under his eye at the song’s conclusion.
Dense orchestral layers on tracks such as “Should Have Known Better” added life to the sparse acoustic songs appearing on C&L. On the album’s heaviest track, “Fourth of July”, an explosive drum crescendo was paired with the impassioned refrain of “We’re all gonna die” as multicolored lights danced across the stage. A 9-piece projection screen resembling cathedral windows displayed videos and images relating to C&L lyrics, including a panoramic shot of a canyon for “The Only Thing”, in which Sufjan relays thoughts of driving his car off of a cliff.
“Spirit of my silence I can hear you / But I’m afraid to be near you” – Sufjan Stevens (“Death With Dignity”)
Late into his two hour set, the Brooklyn-based artist spoke to the audience for the first time and shared childhood stories about the namesakes of the new album, his late mother and stepfather (who currently works for Sufjan’s label Asthmatic Kitty). He spoke about how they adopted an absurd number of sick and wounded pets back in Michigan and would take them to a mystic for past life readings. As the animals they adopted were in bad shape to begin with, many died and were subjected to sky burials. “The whole neighborhood smelled like death… dog food and animal death,” according to Sufjan.
The singer-songwriter split his time between a piano and acoustic guitar while showcasing older material and emphatically punctuating his set with a larger-than-life extended rendition of Carrie & Lowell’s closing track, “Blue Bucket of Gold”, with spotlights refracting off of two disco balls and bright colors flashing from projection screens in tune with the meandering song creating the aesthetic of a hallucinogenic experience in outer space. A 3-song encore was highlighted by “For The Widows In Paradise, For The Fatherless In Ypsilanti” and wrapped up with a jubilant take on “Chicago”. The ornate, cavernous Kings Theatre proved to be the perfect setting for Sufjan’s pristine voice and talented 6-piece ensemble to deliver a remarkable homecoming performance.
Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)
Death With Dignity
Should Have Known Better
Drawn to the Blood
All of Me Wants All of You
John My Beloved
The Only Thing
Fourth of July
No Shade in the Shadow of the Cross
Carrie & Lowell
The Owl and the Tanager
In the Devil’s Territory
To Be Alone With You
Blue Bucket of Gold
Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
The Dress Looks Nice on You
Photography by April Siqueiros.