Sufjan Stevens: Carrie & Lowell Live (Asthmatic Kitty) Review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Sufjan Stevens

Carrie & Lowell Live

Asthmatic Kitty

May 30, 2017 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Sufjan Stevens’ unpredictability in concert follows from an eclectic artistic spirit, one so regularly forged and informed by the voices of personal history. He’s as prone to folding into a pocket of quiet acoustic soul searching as he is to opening up the floodgates of orchestral and electronic embellishment that transcends a room. On the live concert recording of his mystically inviting album, Carrie & Lowell, the full scope processions prove worthy of chambers and cathedrals, where the thoughts expressed would be right at home.

Inspired from a period of loss when his mother Carrie passed in 2012, Stevens’ masterpiece Carrie & Lowell was one of the most painfully personal albums of 2015, one that attempted to process a complicated relationship with a mother who was swallowed in the distance of self-destruction. Recast widely here as a tapestry of live performance, much like a blanket of stars, these lullabies from the skies rise in the space of North Charleston Performing Arts Center in South Carolina, where they were captured on November 9, 2015. Above the ceilings that wouldn’t contain them, they stretched into their own ephemeral canopy.

Adding depth, the stellar show includes a couple of live takes from other albums. It all commences with the gorgeous grand piano sweep of “Redford,” from arguably Stevens’ best full-length, Greetings from Michigan, and moves directly into the familiar banjo gestures of Carrie & Lowell opener “Death with Dignity.” All throughout, Stevens shines his god given vocal tenor, resonating in one untouchable range of fragility. In beautifully considered moments, he is backed by choral counterparts, providing the gust of wind under his flight through song.

The most moving rendition on the evening is of “John My Beloved,” completely enveloping in its slow country sunrise style, guided and carried by singular piano notes that course through you in steady, even time, causing an emotive swell. These same echoing keys are also the buoy for “Fourth of July,” where the solemn refrain of “We’re all gonna die” strikes of a defiance of that reality through an explosive finale. “Drawn to the Blood” is an amplification of the spare LP version, fueled with a robust leaded drum track that unexpectedly calls to mind the score to the opening aircraft carrier scene from Top Gun.

Other examples of taking liberal advantage of playing live are the Sade meets Earth Wind & Fire journey “All of Me Wants All of You” and the nearly 13-minute outro of album closer “Blue Bucket of Gold.” A natural expansion of the heavenly album send off, it’s an exercise in the materialization of atmosphere that can be touched and breathed inmore sound installation than finite composition.

Things get a little carried away into cacophony on “Vesuvius,” from Stevens’ trip into bizzaro-world on 2010’s album, Age of Adz. This is well enough left alone, as is the show’s encore, a silly cover of Drake’s “Hotline Bling” played along with the band Gallant. Though all in good fun, it contrasts too awkwardly with the tone of the whole performance.

For the most part, Carrie & Lowell Live provides thrilling transportation to the evening of its performance. Some live concert albums have the curiously opposite effect of their intent to share the experience, leaving you feeling removed, on the outside listening in. These live versions from Sufjan Stevens and fellows are as universal as they are intimate, with a strength of vibration you wouldn’t need to search for with your eyes closed. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10


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