Carrie & Lowell was released in March of this year. It’s an album that focuses on Sufjan’s strained relationship with his mother who died last year. The album was an abrupt change in direction for him, in that it is largely a collection of stripped down songs, focusing on guitar, banjo and vocals. It’s an album that would be suited to a solo tour in small venues where the crowd hangs on his every word. The other option would be to play the more upbeat songs off it, interspersed with tracks from his back catalogue, but one thing is clear, Sufjan never does the obvious.
Support on the night was from Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, who played an acoustic set, with guitar and vocals taking the leading. It was simple in the extreme, but like all simple things, if done well is enjoyable, which was the case in this instance.
Sufjan arrived on stage a little after 9 to a seated crowd not knowing quite what to expect from the night. He started with a solo piano version of Redford and was later joined by four other musicians.The arrangement of songs were quite similar to those on the album, but often the sound swelled to gigantic proportions, with the anthemic chorus of Fourth of July ‘We’re all gonna die’ being one of the more bizarre group experiences.
The show had none of the gimmicks of Sufjan’s previous tours, but the production values were extremely high. Sufjan likes to put on a show for his audience and the lighting and projections worked well. The lights varied by song, with swirling spotlights into the audience and a variety of other effects. The projections onto the back wall included cine-cam images from his youth and some animated images. It was a visual feast with impressive variety for each song.
The set list includes nearly the full new album and sometimes in the same order. There were some interruptions with earlier songs that are of a similar style or feel, such as Redford (Michigan) and Sister (Seven Swans). The encore did plunder his back catalogue with Chicago and his very own murder ballad ‘John Wayne Gacy, Jr.’ to keep the Illinois (2005) fans happy.
Overall it was pretty much as well as you could play this collection of songs live, but you would question whether the album is suited for a large venue/ stadium tour. Sufjan is an artist that keeps changing and no doubt he will not rest on his laurels. In truth, it’s what keeps him interesting.
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
Blue Bucket of Gold
Concerning the UFO Sighting Near Highland, Illinois
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
For the Widows in Paradise, For the Fatherless in Ypsilanti
The Dress Looks Nice on You