The Helix in one of north Dublin’s suburbs is a strange place to find yourself attending a gig. Surrounded by DCU’s sprawling campus, which itself has been the centre of numerous student gigs, rag weeks, freshers whatevers, etc., the sense that this is a ‘grown up gig’ never quite leaves your mind. Arriving slightly behind schedule State was refused entry until after the first song, a perfectly understandable request no doubt directly from Mr. Stevens himself, but it’s as if we’re attending a performance rather than a gig. Semantics, maybe. Pertinent, definitely.
It’s a subdued atmosphere as Stevens and his backing band solemnly and dutifully play through his new album. ‘Death With Dignity’ and ‘Should Have Known Better’ making early impression on a crowd who seem almost primed with sense of reverential expectancy, all wide eyed with clasped hands. There literally isn’t a sound between songs, applause obviously, but aside from that there is nothing. It’s eerie to say the least. Portentous and strange to say more.
Carrie & Lowell is played almost in sequence. If you weren’t au fait with it you’ll probably find yourself sucked into it’s lulls and swells without even knowing it. The tracks are mesmeric in the extreme, whether you feel like singing along or not (mainly not). Before ‘Sisters’, ‘Vesuvius’ and ‘Bucket of Gold’ bring the set proper to a close there is a full-on Dean Blunt moment of deep, deep electronic pulse with nothing but spinning mirror-balls providing light.
An encore brings some slightly more familiar songs and the giddy little utterances from people as they recognise them speaks volumes. We’ve come to expect nothing conventional from Stevens and as his tale of hiking and rainbows in Dublin ends, there is more shock at the fact that he spoke than anything else. ‘For the Widows in Paradise…’, arguably the night’s highlight, there are a few ill-judged shouts of appreciation. Even when being praised Stevens looks awkward and uncomfortable; his dancing says differently but he doesn’t respond to the shouts of “I love you” from the front row. Finishing with ‘Chicago’ and with a theatrical bow to boot, Sufjan Stevens leaves the stage with a wry and appreciative smile.
Sufjan Stevens was photographed by Kieran Frost for State.ie.