EMPIRE OF THE SUN
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 25TH
THE FORTITUDE MUSIC HALL, BRISBANE
TAKE YOUR MIND BACK BACK TO 2008 and recall the moment you first encountered Empire Of The Sun. The first time your eyes landed on a bombastic, larger than life press photo. The first time your ears bathed in the meditative, higher consciousness sonics of first single 'Walking On A Dream'. In a music world overflowing with flash-in-the-pans and mere 15 second memorable moments from anything on the charts at the moment, it might've seemed unlikely that we'd be still be dazzled and immersed in the project some 15 years later. But to underestimate the project would be underestimating two members of modern Australian music royalty - Luke Steele of The Sleepy Jackson and Nick Littlemore of PNAU.
The irony isn't lost on Steele who struts onto stage in a wide-brimmed hat, cape and full Empire make-up, as thunder cracks and eventually gives way to an utter spectacle of lights, colour, costumes, drama, dancing, musicianship and, most impact-fully, damn good songs. Littlemore isn't here tonight at Brisbane's Fortitude Music Hall, or any other show of the electronic/rock spectacle in recent memory. Instead Steele is flanked by Ian Ball (guitars, keys, etc) and Olly Peacock (drums) - both from English indie mainstays Gomez, fact finders - as well as a pair of costumed dancers. However, it's the crazy-amazing Steele at the front and centre, with a Prince-like energy, Bowie-esque visuals, that voice, bravado, rock prowess and a unique vision that only he could seemingly dream up. Everything Steele exudes is a sum of its parts, each quality or stagecraft trick never outdoing one another.
It's the ultimate of journeys, beginning with their debut album's opening track 'Standing On The Shore' and continuing through a greatest hits set of anthems, during which Steele manifests something powers from within as he indulges his guitar gift, costume changes, becomes 'The Emperor', is tormented by a God-like higher power, duets with a sexy android and delivers one of the most memorable 90 minute sets in recent memory.
The crowd is insanely vocal and deeply diverse. Where do these kids come from and how do they know every word of 'Delta Bay' or 'Tiger By My Side', songs which weren't even hits from EOTS's masterful debut album when they were still in pre-school? Is it from TV? Is it from TikTok? Is it from their parent's roadtrip Spotify playlist? Wherever it comes from, the connection witnessed here tonight is for life.
The extra element of choreography from the pair of dancers with the ever-changing costume closet adds an incredible memory-carving visual element which brings something of a deeper connection. We're not going to forget those swordfish costumes they donned for 'Swordfish Hotkiss Night', still one of the best and most Purple-tinged in the EOTS cannon. The switch to an acoustic guitar for the recently-released Steele solo song, 'Listen To The Water' is a surprising masterstroke, one that's quickly followed up by the glistening 'High And Low'. But, honestly, you can actually go a long way these days, before you hear three globe-conquering hits the size of ‘We Are The People’, ‘Walking On A Dream’ and closer ‘Alive’ in the one set. And to hear them in such a venue, not a strong 100,000 Wembley Arena is simply unheard of.
Without an album release in seven years and a live show in four, you'd be forgiven for thinking these recent shows are little more than a clutch at breaking hibernation, as well as for thinking this high concept, high octane show could easily fall over onto the wrong side of hip. However, Steele has injected new lifer new look and, not to mention, timeless tunes into something magic that will rebuild from here over the coming 12 months, promising new music, a long-promised new album and more and more moments like this. It's high art, as relevant as ever, from an entirely different plane which, frankly, is exactly what the world needs right now.