Guess you could call Sufjan Stevens' preantepenultimate show of his North American tour sort of a homecoming: a return to the state that has inspired his latest and the most poignant album to date - a time capsule from his childhood spent in Oregon with his late mother (Carrie) and her husband (Lowell); a homecoming celebrated with moist eyes and fervent handclaps, with just enough humour (even if it was just for the Hustler T-shirt Stevens picked up at a local sex shop) to keep from being unfashionably sentimental.
As one has come to expect from the consummate artist, Stevens' two hour set was one of nearly flawless orchestrated course in the best possible venue in Portland. The historic Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall with its Renaissance-style decor provided a graceful and enlightening setting for a show with lo-fi eighties home videos projected on cathedral window-shaped panels, while its superb acoustics made every stroke, pluck, glide, bang, and breath shimmer and soar from the stage to the balcony and maybe to the heavens - where Carrie now drifts.
For the first hour of his set, Stevens seemed to be working through the predicament of dealing with here and now, focused on performing the emotionally-laden songs from Carrie & Lowell. Not a single word acknowledged our presence as the sonic sculptor shaped the intimate tracks into grand spires reaching to exosphere and beyond. After getting through the bulk of his new material, the Brooklyn-based songwriter became quite the spoken word artist. From his 15-year struggle to pin a song about disgraced ice-skater Tanya Harding to having successive catharsis during a road trip in Oregon (and getting beaten up by park rangers in Crater Lake because he drove into a parking lot from the exit in a California-licensed car in spandex). For the final thought, we return to that black Hustler T-shirt hugging soon-to-be quadragenarian. Stevens claimed that he purchased it because of what his assistant JV basketball coach used to say, "Hustle! Hustle! Hustle! Look alive!", reminding us even in an obsidian darkness, there is a light.