For a long while Sunday, Sufjan Stevens didn’t speak.
Instead, he sang — tenderly, movingly, softly.
When the singer-songwriter finally did address the near-capacity audience, an hour after first taking the Majestic Theatre stage, he spoke at some length.
His five-minute monologue framed much of what has just transpired — an eloquent, elegiac song cycle culled from his recently released LP, Carrie & Lowell — and provided rich context.
“It’s good to hear all that noise, that clapping,” Stevens began. “It’s the sound of life.”
But it was life’s inverse, death, which was the focus of his temporary logorrhea: “I remember, as a kid, on the subject of death my parents were unflinching.”
He recalled the death of his grandmother, who “made amazing fried chicken, and smelled of lavender.”
Her passing left a seven-year-old Stevens bereft, even if, 32 years later, he found the wry humor in his parents’ gift of the Tibetan Book of the Dead and a collection of Sylvia Plath poems as a coping mechanism.
Stevens summed up his reflections — the longest, most sustained non-musical contact he offered all night — by describing death as “a compilation of vacancies.”
The turn of phrase was an elegant, if faintly morbid, beauty, and one which could very easily be applied to the 11 songs found on Carrie & Lowell, conceived in the aftermath of his estranged mother’s death, and all of which were performed Sunday (the irony of seeing Stevens perform these tunes on Mother’s Day was not remarked upon from the stage).
Backed by a quartet of multi-instrumentalists (including Dawn Landes, who doubled as the opening act, when the originally scheduled performer missed his flight), Stevens worked through the minimalist, folk-flecked material, on a stage adorned with video screens, which displayed either nature scenes or snippets of home movies, shaped not unlike the windows of a cathedral.
Indeed, the gathered sat and watched in rapt silence, as if inside a church, their intent faces washed with radiance.
Stevens could break your heart — as he did with Eugene (“I just wanted to be near you,” he sighed) — or chill your blood, as he did during Fourth of July.
There were many breathtaking moments, when sound and light aligned as one: Stevens, seated at one end of the stage, playing piano, with a rainbow of spotlights slowly turning toward him, coalescing into a warm glow; the stark illumination of the musicians as Should Have Known Better drew to a close, or the riotous finale, Blue Bucket of Gold, the climax of which rivaled My Bloody Valentine’s infamous “sonic holocaust” for sheer sensory overload.
Every element on stage served to masterfully pull an audience inside an inherently “interior” album, making Sunday’s performance an exceptionally rare example of the live experience elevating, and in many instances, exceeding what’s found on record.
A near-perfect union of performer and venue, Sufjan Stevens — whose songs said so much more than his words ever could —delivered one of the most poignant, deeply felt evenings of music to materialize in North Texas thus far in 2015.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713