Live: Intergalactic Christ. Sufjan Stevens, Royal Festival Hall.

Sufjan Stevens has never been one to shy away from the "first person pronoun". Whether he's wanting to be well, walking, commenting on his maturation etc., he revels in the self and tonight is, indubitably, about the self-celebration of a man many have come to acknowledge as of the contemporary world's most intriguing individuals. Revelling in myself for a moment, approximately the last third of my life thus far can be delineated by his eclectic back catalogue: I remember lurking and lingering in the shadows of the now-defunct Neal's Yard Rough Trade spiral staircase in the vague hope Seven Swans were to be jacked up on the temperamental stereo as I anxiously awaited their next shipping of the Burnt Toast 12". Man and myth seemed inconsequential, such was the majesty of the vulnerable emotivity contained within. Then came the transcendent pop of Illinois, and a subsequent trip to Chicago was entirely tarnished by the absence of goats, supermen and mafioso types as illustrated on its comic strip-ish sleeve artwork. Helplessly enveloped in the carefully crafted world Stevens had ushered me into, his exhaustive Songs for Christmas collection lodged itself in a kitchen hi-fi infinitely more volatile than that in the depths of Neal's Yard, and its various volumes were aired all year round. Christmas In July would be played routinely in July, Sister Winter warmed inconsistently warm evenings, and even O Come, O Come Emmanuel seemed entirely acceptable aestival soundtrack. Sufjan doesn't wind up on these shores all too often, and having waited eight years for the moment he'd stumble out and mumble a remark or two, as soon as a gloriously melodramatic Seven Swans (accompanied by the Royal Festival Hall's monumental organ) hits full flight, my jaw drops, almost dislodged, immobile.
On tonight's evidence, Stevens isn't really of our day nor age, but of the delightful Age of Adz, his latest superlative-garnering record: he endearingly informs a captivated audience of star people and theories of cosmology in amidst a set heavily laden with material from the aforementioned LP as if beamed in from some Jovian realm, neon Kmart gaffer tape gleaming in stark contrast with black jumpsuits. Something of an intergalactic Christ in Hi-Vis Adidas trainers, Stevens is altogether otherworldly, to which the industrial energy of Too Much attests, wondrously unsynchronised dance routines and sublime visuals inducing marginal sensory overload by the ten-minute mark. Backing dancers become back-up singers, bearded brass sections combat with Sufjan's astonishing (and somewhat unexpected) synth wizardry, and dual drumkits on opposing sides of the stage collide and crash like Fantasian flood. Lamentably however, DM Stith, having provided tonight's support (and, as Stevens comments, is "working double time"), is the only member of his 9-piece band nominally introduced.
By the time we're awash with the cultish croons of Age of Adz, tears of unadulterated jubilation flow in the front stalls, as the spectacularity of the here and now takes hold, the acoustic minimalism of Heirloom, lifted from the All Delighted People EP of yesteryear required merely to reinstate emotional parity. However as Stevens rhetorically questions: "How quickly will your joy pass?", a pestering anxiety is generated, for all too soon he'll be on his troubled way, perhaps never to return for aeons, or at least a fair few years as seems customary of his UK pitstops. All For Myself is equally subdued, if perhaps the evening's sole faintly substandard moment, much of its urgency lost in this great Hall's echoing upper echelons.
Swivelling on his cushioned luminous heels in an apparent attempt to add some athleticism to the general spectacle, I Walked has Stevens flittering between devastating falsetto and stereotypical soothe, his vocal capabilities brought to the fore atop as close as he's yet to get to ultimate alternative musical score. However it's not until the euphoric climax to main set closer Impossible Soul that the calories are really blazed, as having donned wings seemingly fabricated of space blanket, and accompanying ape mask, he bounds about the spacious stage with gay abandon, leaping from pianos, showering in ticker tape as hordes teem forth to bask at Stevens' sneakers. A mid-set brace of the overtly anthemic, off-kilter Get Real Get Right and tonight's despondent highlight Vesuvius further differentiates Stevens as showman, songwriter and orchestral sorcerer as digitalised volcanoes fire and flame. Much energy exerted, Stevens returns solo to sit himself down at the piano and deliver a spectacular, utterly arresting Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois, megalomania exchanged for meekness in his Say Yes! To Michigan T-shirt.
A dumbfounding Casimir Pulaski Day follows, Stevens painstakingly ensuring every cog in its conception revolves with meticulous, again somewhat megalomaniacal precision, before every inhibition flees for fantastical, almost dream-like closer Chicago. Balloons cascade from the balcony like kaleidoscopic summer rain, microphones and vocal duties are divvied up in the front few rows and unsullied euphoria is restored. Excelling in both major and minor key, revelry and melancholy, in monkey hats and neon-daubed Kmart paraphernalia The Age of Adz, internal conflicts, mandible loss, self-depreciation and all, seems a far preferable era to 2011. Thank you Sufjan, for fulfilling many a night and quite probably many a life.