By Lindsay Sanchez
Whatever your expectations are of a top 40 female artist’s headlining arena show, toss them out the window. Those preconceived ideas don’t apply to Sia. Last night (October 25), Brooklyn’s Barclays Center became a theater for a cast of characters and contemporary dancers, all with Sia’s signature two-toned hairstyle. They became the focal point while Sia was stationed mainly in the back corner of the stage firmly behind her microphone stand. She was was less the main character and more the narrator in her own show.
The cast included a tortured businessman with a constant look of anguish on his face; someone reminiscent of a Saigon farmer in a large conical hat twirling about with fans wielded like swords; and stoic figures in car mechanic jumpsuits resembling George Orwell’s 1984 . Of course, there was also Sia’s emotive stand in, 14 year old Maddie Ziegler. While this tiny elastic-like dancer flailed about on stage, Sia remained steadily in one place. But Ziegler’s moves have the same passion that bursts from Sia’s voice, starting with the opener “Alive” through to the encore “The Greatest.”
The set included “Diamonds” made famous by Rihanna, but once heard sung live by Sia, it’s hard to remember a different version. The song was augmented by a new character sporting a reflective costume that was perfectly positioned to reflect streams of light into the entire stadium, like a human disco ball.
The whole performance was produced in pristine detail. While the storyline was being acted on the stage, a prerecorded film was perfectly synced and screened on the big screens featuring cameos by Kristen Wiig and Paul Dano duplicating the roles of the dancers on stage. The use of space, light, shadows – every single aspect – is ripe for camera tricks. We can only hope there will be a live DVD to follow (and it seemed to nod at a classic concert film, Talking Heads’ Stop Making Sense). Ziegler even came out in oversized pants that ballooned out like David Byrne’s famous suit. Visually, Sia’s concert was simply stunning even if the storyline was hard to follow.
Should we try to interpret the meaning behind a male dancer wearing a nude leotard and giant bunny head who hit Ziegler (wearing an equally giant panda head) with an oversized stuffed hammer? That scene, by the way, played out to a piano version of “Titanium.”
A dapper businessman grabbed by the shoulders by giant cartoonish hands, struggling in vain to free himself, what does that mean? Is this a metaphor for fame? This scene played out as Sia sang “Breathe Me,” a song that launched her career forward, but which also, arguably, led to her obscuring her public profile, via hiding her face behind her signature two-toned wig.
Maybe we shouldn’t try to watch Sia’s concert as a riddle to be solved; it should, perhaps, be taken as performance art. It’s a cathartic event, like letting out a good cry. Releasing the physical pressure of chaotic feelings up through your lungs, into your throat, finally screaming until your insides are out. This is the kind of passion Sia delivers in her voice. And if she needs dancers and actors dressed in wigs to show, so be it. Let Sia sing. Because despite the psychedelic scene playing out on stage, you can just close your eyes and it’s her voice, it’s her music, that kind of makes the puzzle pieces fit.
Before SIA spectacle, there was R&B singer Miguel. In between the kaleidoscope of celestial lights projected on sheer screens to each side, Miguel took center stage with his guitar wearing all white, includes a white leather jacket with feathers on the sleeves.
During “Sure Thing”, it seemed like his body was controlled by the snare beat, striking a pose, a la Destiny’s Child, in “Say My Name.”
Before reaching peak funk on “Deal” he led the crowd in a “F— Donald Trump” chant. That particular political stance made more sense when he explained what growing up in L.A. was like during the ’80s and ’90s as a half Latino, half black kid. “I think we could all use a little more kindness and empathy,” he said, before launching into his ballad “Leaves.”
It wasn’t until his sixth song, “Waves”, that he left his mic stand station and strutted the stage, feathered sleeves flapping about.
He closed with another impassioned R&B ballad, which is what he definitely does best, “Adorn.” His voice was effortlessly smooth, while his band just got heavier and heavier. He snapped his fingers through the bridge in full control of it all.
The night began, however, with AlunaGeorge’s island electro dance jams that vibrated through the arena as the Barclays audience strolled to their seats. She has a kind of bada– stage presence that works on a stage of any size, despite the fact that she was performing to a crowd that wasn’t all there for her. Her music might be more at home pulsing through a dark club, the kind packed with sweaty strangers dancing well past midnight. But this girl’s got star power wherever she goes. She with closed her feature on DJ Snake’s “You Know You Like It.” Yes, yes we did.