Sufjan Stevens – Kings Theatre, Brooklyn, NY 5/2/15 (SHOW REVIEW)

There’s just no one like Sufjan Stevens making music right now. Who else combines such fundamentally religious doctrine into indie-emo pop, and has crossed over so successfully with the hipster community? He’s a rarity, to be sure, but not in any contrived quest for fame: It is a testament to this earnest hybridization and ingenuity that his popularity has continued to grow. That he sings with such honesty and clarity about his faith takes some getting used to, at least it did for this secular queer; was this angelic-voiced popfectionist hiding restrictive Christian social beliefs behind an aesthetically pleasing veneer? Given the frequency with which he references his faith, it’s not an inherently inappropriate question. However, there’s no real indication to support this conclusion, thankfully, which allows me, and I’m sure many others, an entrée into a way of thinking about Christian music (which much of his is), and Christianity, in a wholly new and modern way.

His newest record, the heartbreakingly intimate, and more personal than political, Carrie & Lowell, is his rawest and most confessional record to date, dealing primarily with his mother, Carrie, recently deceased, and her substance abuse and bipolar disorder, and the subsequent relationship with Sufjan’s stepfather, Lowell. The album is largely quiet and acoustic, and marks a seismic stylistic shift from the previous electro-tinged Age of Adz release, but both records are career bests in that they represent full artistic and thematic presentations.

Brooklyn’s prodigal son returned to play two sold out shows at the newly renovated and absolutely stunning Kings Theater in Flatbush, just blocks from where Stevens lived after he came to the city in a van from Chicago (as lyrics from the titular song recall). Brooding and slightly melancholic, the main set of the show carried the theme of reflection and nostalgia as Stevens played each of the songs from the new album, interspersed with occasional older material that fit with this theme, such as The Owl and the Tanager, from the All Delighted People EP, To Be Alone With You and In the Devil’s Territory from Seven Swans, and Futile Devices, the opening track on Adz.

It wasn’t until more than an hour into the show that Stevens finally addressed the audience with a wonderfully rambling anecdote about the audience’s cheers and Bring It On 2. His genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for the crowd’s attention was endlessly endearing, during an emotional show in which he wiped tears from his face several times. The songs flowed together without pause, instilling a sense of purpose to the craft and history behind their story. He ended the show, as usual, with Chicago, the song that was the cause for his initial break to more mainstream audiences.

Stevens’s popularity, given his propensity for faith-based fodder (though never proselytizing), speaks to a particularly modern approach to religion, and Christianity, that prefers the inclusive core of the text to the polemic debate of it from zealots. His fans are part of this appealing community.

Sufjan Stevens Setlist Kings Theatre, Brooklyn, NY, USA 2015, Carrie & Lowell

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