The first thing you saw of Luke Steele as he rose to the platform that was erected atop the stage within the Shrine Expo Hall was his headpiece–a brilliantly gleaming silver crown with metal points curved upwards. Adorned in his characteristic robes with shoulder pads that resembled squid-like tentacles, Emperor Steele walked down the steps toward what looked like an enlarged version of his headpiece where his microphone stood. He was joined by the band’s backup dancers, wearing all manner of costumes that were changed throughout the show–Steele himself even had an outfit change halfway through the set in which he traded his robes for a cloak of glowing white lights. Empire of the Sun is a band that not only promises its heavily synthesized and melodic anthems to fans, but also a spectacle so large that its theatricality seems out of place at times. Fans arrived wearing handmade crowns in homage to Steele’s and for a brief moment the mythos behind Empire’s music seemed to come to life–we were all just the humble subjects of their colossal sound.
But for all the extravagence of their aesthetic, it’s the sonic energy of Steele and company that keeps their concerts pulsing. Intersperesed with the explosive hits like “We Are the People” and “Walking on a Dream,” Steele dazzles just as well with the lesser known cuts from their discography, filling the space between their anthems with a heated, electronica-powered rave. Empire has always split the difference between their glam-rock ambitions and EDM life-blood, so it wasn’t a surprise that at one moment fans were screaming at a guitar-weilding Steele at the edge of the stage’s catwalk and at another they were jumping with him to the head-caving bass erupting in front of them. Behind his podium Steele resembled the synth-peddling jockeys that now saturate electronic dance shows, but more than just a button-pusher, the Australian singer allows no room for exhausted bass-drops or cliched build-ups. Every sound is electrifying in its own right, even the songs you don’t know the words to become stuck in your head–punctuated by the image and feeling of Steele’s eccentric form belting them out surrounded by glowing backup dancers.
At one point a massive digital head appeared on the screen behind Steele and he fell to his knees calling the head “father,” entering into the only theatric moment of their entire set. It was amusing, but not trite, and by that time you were so engrossed into the whole fantasy of Steele’s world that you accepted it. Afterwards Steele accented the encounter by jumping behind his synthesizer and igniting a purge of bassrush through the crowd, but despite having the narrative nature of previous Empire tours every moment was bled together by their magnetism. Alternating between the desire to just observe in awe and participate in the madness, the crowd was reminded that for all the grandiosity Steele was just a man. Hopping off the stage often to sing with the crowd–who clawed for him like he was truly the Emperor who had descended to their world–Steele never allowed a fourth-wall to develop between himself and the crowd. Holding one of the handmade crowns in his hand, he smiled at its creator and told them he loved it as he put it on–and he left us pining for the existence of Emperor Steele.
Broods opened the night with their electro-pop soundtrack, filling the Expo Hall with the brooding nature of their melancholic but fiercly hopeful songs. The sibling duo, comprised of lead singer Georgia and multi-instrumentalist (and synthezier wizard) Caleb Nott, hail from New Zealand, just a hop-skip-step from Empire’s home country of Australia. Flying low under the radar, it didn’t take long for Georgia’s sultry charm and powerful vocals to win over the crowd–as beguiling as she is fearsome, she channels all the vulnerability and impetuousness that their songs traverse. While in the studio their songs might’ve been untamed, alt-R&B concoctions at best, live the group (with the help of a drummer and second person on synth duties) contended evenly with Empire’s mammoth sound.
Words & Photography: Steven Ward