I’ve been hooked on Empire of the Sun since their newest album ‘Ice On The Dune’ came out. Then I saw a live show of theirs that was broadcast on the Palladia network, and I knew I had to see them myself. Between the poppy electronic songs and the over-the-top costumes, Empire of the Sun has the ingredients for a great live show.
The show was at the State Theater, which I always feel is an odd choice for a pop or dance oriented band since everyone is stuck standing at assigned seats and prevented from moving around the floor. At a little over 2000 seat capacity it’s definitely more than First Ave, although there was a good amount of seats open at last nights show. Their stage setup wasn’t giant, but their giant video screen backdrop and platform stage could have been why they needed a theater size stage to play. Aside from the large video screen, there elevated platform was flanked on either side by the drum kit and a guitar, then in front of that setup was Luke Steele’s sun podium.
A little after 8PM, the lights went down and the intro to ‘Lux’ began to play. Surahn Sidhu (guitar) and Tony Mitolo (drums and giant mohawk hat) took to the stage and began playing. Luke Steele then began ascending to the top of the platform in his trademark sun ray hat (which he removed just 3 songs in), as 4 backup dancers joined the group. The dancers, by the way, went through at least 8 or more costume changes throughout the 74 minute show. Steele himself even changed jackets and hats a few times. Some of the more interesting items they wore were, LED belt buckles, Iron Man Arc chest lights, mohawks, fuzzy boots, light up guitars, wings, welding masks, robot bug helmets, and sunglasses with veils. Basically you never saw their faces and they almost had a different outfit on for every song. They did add some variety to the stage as Sidhu rarely left his station, so Steele was left covering the large theater stage mostly solo. During ‘We Are The People’, Steele made his way down the center of the audience to sing along with audience members, which really seemed to wake everyone up.
The songs sounded great live, although, I’m not sure if it was where I was sitting or the acoustics in the State Theater, but the vocals weren’t as pronounced as they are on the albums. A big part of Empire of the Sun‘s sound is Steele’s distinctive vocals, and that got lost a bit, at least from where I was sitting. Even when he addressed the crowd, especially early on, it was tough to hear him. In addition to the possible vocal issues, there were obvious guitar issues. During “Celebrate” after struggling with different guitars and his amp jack, he appeared to drop the guitar on the floor out of frustration. There was a noticeable absence of Steele’s guitar when he wasn’t playing which was on and off through the next 3 songs, until it was finally resolved with Steele asking the guitar tech “That guitar fixed yet?!” Awkwaaard.
Following “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” Steele left the stage, and Sidhu and Mitolo manned the 2 drum machines stationed at either side at the front of the stage. Meanwhile the dancers did their thing as a large costumed skeleton arose from the back of the stage, blowing smoke from 2 gas pump handles. This gave Steele the opportunity to change jackets, obviously. When he returned they broke into ‘Walking on a Dream’, which got a huge response from the crowd. The song started off normal, but within seconds Steele wondered off to the side of the stage where he remained for the duration of the song, all while still singing. Sidhu and Mitolo seemed to be exchanging looks to each other as if to be saying “wtf is he doing?”. He finally returned to the stage as if it was part of the show and they played their last song of the main set, “Tiger by My Side”. Upon leaving the stage, Steele smashed his guitar on the steps, which I initially thought was such a rock star thing to do, assuming it was in response to his problems earlier, but some quick Googling revealed it’s just part of the show.
Seconds later the band returned to perform their latest hit, “Alive”. While the audience maintained a consistent, albeit muted groove the entire show, they really let it all out for this last song. Again Steele made a run into the audience making it an incredibly strong finish for both band and viewers. The song concluded and the performers gathered at center stage to bow for the audience which ultimately reminded you, you were in a theater after all. And with that, Steele descended back down out of sight.
This was definitely a spectacle to see and worth the money. The theater setting was appropriate for the theatrics involved, but I think the audience would have preferred something more conducive to a dance party.