Sufjan Stevens at Brighton’s Great Escape

Undoubtedly one of the main draws of the Great Escape this year, Sufjan Stevens played to a long-since sold out Dome on the final night of the festival. Andy James went along for the crazy ride:

Stevens used American artist Royal Robertson as his muse for 2010’s Age of Adz and live it makes a lot more sense than the first time you put the LP on. Relatively unknown in mainstream circles, Robertson was a paranoid schizophrenic and self-proclaimed prophet to boot. He died near penniless back in 1997 but left behind a mountain of drawings – many of which have since been animated and are used as the visual backdrop for the tour.

Robertson’s work is well worth a Google of anyone’s time. A good reference point would be the child-like doodling of Daniel Johnston albeit with three-eyed monsters, spaceships, and laser guns ramped up several notches.

Clad in a day-glo space outfit Sufjan channels Robertson’s apocalyptic visions through the performance which he describes as a battle between inner and outer space. It’s in danger of all ending up a bit Spinal Tap – but the gig is superb. Seriously. If L. Ron Hubbard wandered in sporting a Great Escape wristband he’d probably say “fuck it” and chuck in the towel on the spot.

Stevens and his ten-piece backing band play Age of Adz pretty much in its entirety – without resorting to any material from breakthrough albums Illinois or Michigan in the main set.

Think prime Flaming Lips – but with an even greater audio-visual assault on the senses. No one in the audience is moving an inch for two-and-a-half hours – not even for the excellent Dark Star ale on tap in the Dome’s bar.

The set is packed with highlights but album title track Age of Adz stands out along with closer Impossible Soul. The latter is pure pop opera with multiple twists and turns taking you from electronica to stripped-back folk via a healthy slab of disco. Weighing in at 25 minutes it doesn’t overstay its welcome by a second.

Highly recommended – catch this tour if you can.

Review and photographs by Andy James