Sia Didn't Need to Be the Star to Stun Toyota Center

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Sia, Miguel, AlunaGeorge
Toyota Center

When the crowd roared at the end of Sia’s main set, I breathed a sigh of relief. It wasn’t that they hadn’t been responsive throughout the show; they cheered wildly for the big hits like “Cheap Thrills” and “Elastic Heart.” The worry in me came from the fact that this show was so different not just from major pop shows, but from concerts in general that I had no idea how the audience would respond to the show in totality. In the end, my fears were unfounded, and the crowd seemed to really enjoy the minimal, often abstract production that Sia gave them.

Given her well-known issue with stage fright and the presentation of her songs on TV over the past few years, the one given about the "Nostalgic for the Present" tour was that Sia was not going to be out front and center. It was also a given that she wasn’t going to try to fill the stage with tons of production, flash, pomp and circumstance. Still, it was striking to see her and her small crew of dancers do so much with so little; just a white wall and floor, some lights, a handful of props and costumes, three immensely talented dancers and a pop star who spent a healthy chunk of the show off to the side of the stage not drawing attention to herself.

To call it a concert seems wrong, almost. Part performance art, part modern dance performance, the show was a live-action re-enactment of a film that played on the screens flanking either side of the stage. I couldn’t tell you what the narrative arc of the film was, other than multiple meditations on what it is to be manipulated, but the individual sequences made sense enough on their own. The dancers onstage replicated the moves of the Hollywood stars on screen, although for many the big draw was seeing ex-Dance Moms star and frequent Sia stand-in Maddie Ziegler work her magic onstage in real life.

It feels weird to write about a concert at Toyota Center and spend so little time talking about what the would-be-star of the show did. Even though Sia was the selling point, it was only her show in the way that a movie belongs to a director; the show was about her but not featuring her. That said, her vocals were rock-solid all night.

It was a performance that often stunned and at times gave me chills. It was beautiful in a way that shows at Toyota Center probably shouldn’t be, because we’re conditioned to believe that at a certain level of popularity, the only thing you can present is pop spectacle, the visual equivalent of a sugar rush. Something like “Bird Set Free,” with its story of a desk jockey gone wild, would likely stun in a small studio space, but also manages to stun in a giant basketball arena because of the talent of all involved.

In the end, it was a wholly unique experience I doubt I will ever have again in a venue the size of Toyota Center, and that both thrills me and makes me sad. The world needs more people willing to make challenging decisions for their art. The world needs more Sias.

So, How Were the Openers: AlunaGeorge are good at what they do; the problem is that they really only do one thing. After about four songs of their brand of electropop, I started to tune out, not because it was bad but because there were no dynamics. “Mean What I Mean” should probably be more popular, though. Miguel sounded fantastic, but his set was a bit subdued. While his stage design was interesting, the decision to stay bound to the center of the stage for most of the show felt like it undercut some of the energy he might have produced otherwise. It’s not that the crowd didn’t respond to him; it just seemed like both sides were holding back. This led to an underwhelming ending, which is a bummer.

Personal Bias: Sia is an artist I respect, but something about her music keeps me emotionally distant. Miguel will have a song on my “Best Songs of 2016” list.

The Crowd: I can’t recall the last time I saw so many wigs in one place, and I’m sad that I don’t have a joke to make about that. Also, more than a few children in the house really excited to see Maddie Ziegler.

Overheard In the Crowd: “Pinch me. No, wait, don’t. That would hurt,” said the seven-year-old behind me to her smaller sister. She apparently could not believe she was going to see Sia, and from the way she enthused, it sounded like this was the best night of her young life. This review was almost just a transcript of her reactions because her reactions to everything were amazing. To be filled with such wonder. Sigh.

Random Notebook Dump: Much in the same way I still wonder what that Kanye/Gaga tour would have looked like, I wonder what a Kanye/Sia tour would produce. While Kanye is known for his grandeur, and rightfully so, his current tour is one of stark minimalism that still has the energy of the Sia show while getting there in a different way. If nothing else, we’ll always have that SNL performance of “Wolves.”

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