Stunning show from American singer and multi-instrumentalist at the Edinburgh Playhouse
This article is from 2015.
Sufjan Stevens' Carrie & Lowell is already one of the best albums of the last year – and this concert at the Edinburgh Playhouse on the last weekend of the festival might be one of the best of 2015 too. By the end of it, 3000 people are on their feet, wrung raw and astonished by the fantastic display that they've just seen.
First, there's excellent support from mother-and-son duo Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, whose energetic country/folk are the perfect warm-up for the spectacle to follow. And the performance from Sufjan and his band – who tonight are joined by The National's Bryce Dessner, in town to perform his composition with Richard Reed Parry, Wave Movements – really is a spectacle, as much about striking visuals as sound.
An impressive, colourful light show punctuates the gig, which starts off with a sequence of tracks from Carrie & Lowell before seguing into some older stuff. Everything is given an orchestral brilliance, but Sufjan knows when to go big and when to keep things contained. So the instrumental section at the end of 'Drawn to the Blood' is amplified and intensified, reverberating through the Playhouse, while 'Eugene' and 'No Shadow of the Cross' are kept clean and simple, just strings and Sufjan's clear, moving vocals.
All the while, projections of home movies and seascapes play at the back. Together with the lighting, the whole affair has a Cathedral-like atmosphere - and there's certainly a palpable reverence in this crowd, a mix of longtime uber-fans and post-Carrie & Lowell converts.
But while the main part of tonight's gig is a tightly orchestrated, slick performance, with no interaction between Sufjan and the crowd, the lengthy encore has a much more casual vibe, in which the multi-instrumentalist shows his lighter side. There's plenty of chat from the musician this time. Emphasising to the crowd how much he loves and appreciates them, he tells a funny anecdote about a goat while tuning up and a few times bursts into laughter mid-song, tickled by the sound of a triangle.
It all paints an endearing, multi-dimensional portrait of a fine musician at the top of his game. And when he ends with early fan favourite 'The Dress Looks Nice on You', it's a poignant – and fun – end to what's been a blissful evening.