The headliner

Taking the wheel from fellow headline honchos DJ Shadow and Friendly Fires, in front of a festival crowd of industry heads, indie kids and hipsters, would normally involve the negotiation of some rocky waters for a shy folkster from Detroit.

However, tonight’s navigator extraordinaire turns out to be a self-styled cosmic voyager, a mystical neon pirate intent on forging inner and outer space by turning our venue into ‘a rocket ship hurtling through a world series of love’. Sufjan Stevens arrives adorned in the wings of the subject of his opening song, ‘Seven Swans’, which sets the tone for a fantastical and soul bearing evening ahead.

From here on he guides us exclusively through 2010’s Age of Adz and All Delighted People releases, offering lyrical flirtations with the cosmos and adding playful electronic edges to his traditional folk core. The multi-instrumentalist is a hugely likeable talent, who manages to spread 14 songs across two-and-a-half hours. He leads an almost aghast crowd and a neon-suited, Tron-inspired musical ensemble of ten through a space folk odyssey decorated by a light and visual show that could have been forged by Dali and George Lucas in a moment of mushroom madness.

Sufjan takes time out to pay tribute to tonight’s visual inspiration, Royal Robertson, an old-time artist, self proclaimed prophet and paranoia ridden apocalypse predictor, whose child-like paintings of intergalactic wars are beautifully rendered into wondrous digital landscapes.

Stevens bears his soul on several occasions - childhood fears (aloe vera, cooked fruit and creeping lava), his laborious and schizophrenic recording process, the lament of a world talking through politics instead of dance, and his gratitude to those who’ve endured his hilarious musings, all allow the audience a momentary return to earth, however these lapses from the cosmos don’t last long.

Age of Adz highlights Too Much, Get Real Get Right, Vesuvius and All For Myself take everyone through a musical dimension or two before 25 minute album opus Impossible Soul stun-guns everyone as Sufjan takes everything he has, kitchen sink and all, and throws it at us atop piano and speakers. Sporting a disco ball rocket dress and monkey mask, he blasts out ticker tape and streamers as the Brighton Dome spaceship makes its last turns for home.

The crowd are left in raptures as Stevens leaves to strip himself of his neon night wear, returning civvy-clad to treat everyone to classic moments from 2005’s Illinoise, topped off with album highlight Chicago delivered with Flaming Lips-esque bombast and a cascade of balloons to give the Brighton Dome battle cruiser a blast of light-speed before finally running out of juice.

Sufjan’s set is a mesmerising, mind-boggling performance that leaves our legs wobbly as we float back down to earth, balloons and all.

Words by Brian Murnin
Photo by Mike Burnell


Discover more coverage from The Great Escape 2011 on HERE.

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