By: Graeme Guttmann, Contributor, Regional Music Journal
Empire of the Sun performed to a sold-out crowd for the second night in a row on June 12th in Dallas. The floor was already packed thirty minutes after doors opened for the decade anniversary tour of their hit single “Walking on a Dream,” a near-ubiquitous song whose cultural impact has extended further than the band ever thought it could.
The Australian duo, known for their elaborate visuals and costumes at their shows, did not disappoint. Lead singer Luke Steele entered the stage wearing a priest-like robe and pointed crown, evoking empiric regality as the opening chords of “Standing on the Shore” sounded through the tightly packed House of Blues. The fact that there was no opening act did not deter the crowd’s enthusiasm as Steele entered the stage, flanked by two dancers in equally as boisterous costumes as him. Steele raised his arms as he took center stage, as if ready to preach a sermon. The crowd screamed at his every move and as soon as the thrumming guitar of “Standing on the Shore” began, the crowd jumped along with Steele.
From there on out, the crowd seemed to be completely under Steele’s control, guided by the music. Concert-goers, dressed in a mix of outfits that blended New Age and rave aesthetics, were enthralled. Their neon-infused stage, decked out with a large staircase and a giant crown-like totem to match Steele’s in the center, flashed with the music. The band’s mix of live instrumentals and thumping techno soundtrack created a cross between a rave and a heavy-metal concert, fitting for the basement-like venue tucked in the back of the House of Blues. It was Steele’s own electronica-utopia.
As the throbbing synths transitioned the audience into “We Are the People,” the audience shouted the lyrics back to him: “We are the people that rule the world / A force running in every boy and girl / All rejoicing in the world.” This utopia Steele is dreaming of is the one he creates for himself on stage, one that he invited the audience into with his sharp vocals and lush imagery. The screens behind him were part-videogame visuals and part lush tropical landscape.
Steele brought out his own guitar a little over halfway through the set, playing “High and Low,” dancing just as enthusiastically as he had without the guitar draped over his shoulders. The enthusiasm of “High and Low” was a peak for the crowd as they echoed back Steele’s chant during the chorus. The bright optimism of “High and Low” soon gave way to the almost punk-rock-like “Delta Bay.” Steele crooned into the mic as he aggressively strummed the guitar. The lighting changed from breezy blues to demonic red and the dancers were suddenly wearing cones over their arms in something out of Resident Evil. Steele joined in on the dancers’ routine before leaving the stage completely. The dancers finished out the song while the electric guitars reached a chaotic crescendo.
Steele, still brandishing the guitar, appeared back onstage, doused in shadows. As he played “Between Me and You” alone on stage, the slower moment gave time for the crowd to pause and catch their breath before the startling final act. The Brandon Flowers cover was a nice, melancholic addition to the otherwise frenetic set. It seemed almost impossible for the audience to reach the same heights as they had thirty minutes before, but Steele seemed determined to reach that high again. As soon as “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” began, the crowd seemed to be revitalized. Whether it was the brief period of rest they had been allotted by Steel and the band, or the pillars of smoke that erupted from cones on the stage every time Steele stroked the guitar, it was hard to tell.
Steadily, Steele guided the audience once again along with the music. His power over the crowd is something curious. Is it because of the king-like imagery he uses that he inspires such fierce loyalty from his crowds? He is the emperor of this so-called empire, after all. Or, is it because the audience sees beyond the artifice into something deeper? In the end, it is probably a little bit of both. After all, you don’t have a hit song like “Walking on a Dream” without inspiring some religious fervor.
Surprisingly, the band played “Walking on a Dream” fourth to last, not even saving the song for the encore, an interesting move seeing as this is the anniversary tour celebrating the song’s success. The crowd hardly seemed to notice, though. As “Walking on a Dream” transitioned into “Tiger by My Side,” the audience seemed glued to Steele’s movements, shifting with him as he walked back and forth across the stage.
After closing with “Alive,” one of their more recent hits, it was clear why Steele and company inspired such a rabid fandom. Their music, while transformative, is an amalgamation of the many different influences present in Empire of the Sun. Steele, the lead singer, is originally of punk rock band The Sleepy Jackson, while Nick Littlemore, writer and producer, is from electronic dance band Pnau. This combination of the intimacy of punk rock and grandiosity of EDM allows for a unique show, one that is unforgettable in its energy and enticing in its familiarity.
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