Review and photos – Empire of the Sun at the Orpheum, Vancouver, Oct 22 2013
– review by Ria Nevada/photos by Kirk Chantraine
Only the magnificent edifice of the Orpheum theatre could house the grandiose personality of Luke Steele, half of the electronic force behind Australia’s Empire of the Sun. The outlandish duo blasted onto the music scene in 2008 with their feted debut Walking on a Dream, around the same time youngbloods like MGMT, Cut Copy, Miike Snow and Passion Pit were bringing synth-pop into the mainstream.
Unfortunately, Steele’s creative partner Nick Littlemore was absent from the show. In an interview with Music Feeds, he revealed that Littlemore was unimpressed with the performance fees they were being offered and decided to sit out on the entire tour. But Steele, in his golden tunic and Sun God crown (his ensemble would put Ziggy Stardust to shame), stepped up to the plate, pulled out all the stops, and showed no signs of being shorthanded.
The night was a spectacle of extravagant proportions – whatever ridiculous theatrical stunts you could imagine, Steele and his production team delivered. Smoke machines, disco balls, confetti machines, lazer light shows, Tron-inspired video backdrops, back-up dancers in futuristic leotards – they were all present and accounted for. Did you say you wanted to see a seven-foot ghost blasting out scented fog at the audience? Why yes, they brought one of those along too.
So this is the problem with the band’s schtick – it’s sometimes difficult to remember that there are incredibly talented musicians and songwriters lying there under all the feathers, tulle, glitter, and metallic spandex. Tracks like “Alive”, “We are the People”, “Standing on the Shore”, and “Breakdown” are some of the most infectious dance tracks in recent years, worthy of comparisons to Prince, David Bowie, Daft Punk and Ultravox. Steele has one of the most unique voices in the industry, and is a monster when he thrashes through gritty ’80s rock solos on his guitar. Listeners actually require some distance from all the showmanship to truly absorb the intricacies in the songs – the tight harmonies, throbbing bass lines and acid-jungle rhythms.
Attending an Empire of the Sun show really is about all the theatrics. The hip and trendy dressed for the occasion, in animal print pants, neon tribal make-up, and native headdresses imitating Steele, aka “The Emperor”. The legend behind their latest record Ice on the Dune reveals that the spiteful King of Shadows stole the Emperor’s crown to consume his power. Now the emperor and his prophet (Littlemore) must reclaim the throne through sheer determination.
Does this all sound a little hokey? Yes. Did the show verge on being kitschy, Vegas-inspired? Totally. But Steele pulled it off with complete commitment. Often running into the crowd and striking dramatic poses, he put on one of the most entertaining shows 40 dollars could pay for. There were zero complaints from the audience, too, as three words echoed on Granville Street as we exited the theatre: “That was epic!”
More Empire of the Sun at the Orpheum photos: