There is nothing about Sia or her career that would lead you to believe that this Aussie would bring you a typical big arena pop show. The lady is one of a kind in many ways. That being said, I felt what she tried to accomplish with her Nostalgic for the Present world tour was overly ambitious. The way it was presented to us Sia became a supporting player in her own show. Usually not what a performer is going for.
To begin with there were some positives to the show. First, there was the vocals. If you are a fan of Sia’s instantly identifiable voice with its mix of vibrato and rasp was in fine form. Songs like the opener “Alive” demanded plenty of the Aussie, but she proved up to the task. Belting out the lyrics with her powerful voice. There were few of the usual cracks. I guess, the lack of moving around and opportunity to just focus on her vocals allowed for that.
Other positives were the set, lights and dancing. The mini stage on top of the regular huge stage was stark and used mostly as something to dance on or project images. The young dancer from the “Chandelier” video, Maddie Ziegler, is now 14-years-old and is on the tour as the featured dancer. Blessed with a flexible body and expressive face her spell over fans was evident. The choreography was simple but effective. As for the lights there was a cool set of LED lights in a box shape in front of the stage that projected different coloured lights depending on the mood/emotions of the song being performed.
As you can gather from the previous paragraph that was a much more artistically ambitious show that your average pop concert. This ambition seemed to please most in the crowd though the ladies beside me left about halfway through having given up the hope that this would be a dance-y pop concert.
The only way you could look at or evaluate this show was as an art installation. Sia demands to be in control of her image or lack thereof. While at the same time she is making a statement (loud and clear) about her thoughts of modern day stardom. Really an avant-garde proclamation. She never even engaged in any dialogue with the audience. No “How’s it going Montreal?” No words for the entire show. This made even more shocking the fact that she came out of “character” after her last song of the set, “Chandelier”, to ask the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to opener, Miguel. I almost fell off of my seat as I forgot she was truly there.
For most of the 80 minute set, Sia stood in darkness with no lights on her. Standing very still or even motionless on the extreme left of the stage in the dark was an interesting and courageous choice. Seemingly, she wanted all the attention to be on the music, videos and dancing. And not on Sia herself. This type of artistic choice probably would have worked better in a smaller venue, not at the cavernous Bell Centre. Fans crave some interaction with their musical heroes. Sia did not seem interested in muddling the show with the influence of celebrity or personality. Leaned towards surreal…as did the whole evening.
Sia is a creative creature though less positive words like presumptuous and frustrating could also be used to describe the show. At times I felt like the joke would be revealed and a band would appear and off would come the now famous, face covering blonde/black wig would come off allowing for some kind of connection between fans and artist. Never happened. Was David Lynch behind this all? To her credit the lady is the antithesis of most pop stars today. Doesn’t crave the spotlight nor allow her own personality overshadow the music. But some sense of who she is and accessibility would have enhanced all the emotions stirred up by songs like “Elastic Heart” and “Bird Set Free”.
There was not even a band onstage, which meant that all the music was prerecorded and piped in. Another interesting choice. Saves her money and does withdraw another potential distraction, but something I look demand of a concert is live music and that includes musicians. Prerecorded music does not allow for any improv or interaction with musicians. Takes something away from the live music experience.
It took me a while to realize that the video being projected on the two large ceiling screens on either side of the stage was not live. It took an appearance by comedian Tig Notaro to cement that in my mind. What was happening on screen was being recreated by a dancer on stage. But what was on screen was not happening live. This became a certainty when actor Paul Dano and comedian/actress Kristen Wiig also appeared on the screens.
Miguel was the only opener on the evening as the second supporting act’s, Brit electro pop duo AlunaGeorge, bus broke down and they could not make it. His neo-soul/R&B sound seemed to be highly appreciated by the crowd. Running through his 45 minute set were his hopeful and positive lyrics, dance moves and positive lyrics. His band was also mostly hidden behind white screens upon which images were projected. It was that kind of evening.
- Diamonds (Rihanna cover)
- Big Girls Cry
- Bird Set Free
- One Million Bullets
- Cheap Thrills
- Soon We’ll Be Found
- Fire Meets Gasoline
- Elastic Heart
- Breathe Me
- Move Your Body
- The Greatest