Empire of the Sun
September 19, 2015
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium
Better than: freeze pops during this San Francisco heat wave.
Empire of the Sun attracted a horde of extravagantly costumed fans to the Civic Center on Saturday night. Super-fans dawning glow stick jewelry, sweeping capes, and elaborate crowns shuffled their feet to the electro-pop of opening act Holy Ghost!.
It looked like a party scene from the '80s sci-fi movie, Dune — and it keep going until St. Lucia's set. By the first chorus, the not-so-familiar-with-St. Lucia-party-people were muttering “Oh, I know this song.” And soon after that everyone in the Civic Auditorium wailed along with “Closer Than This.” The band saved “Elevate” for the finale and had a tremendous amount of fun playing its top hit to an audience all on board the St. Lucia boat.
After St. Lucia cleared the stage a long, stuffy wait for the main event in this weekend’s heat wave prompted the question, “Does Bill Graham have adequate ventilation?”
But before the cape-wearing crowd overheated, the lights cut to black and thick smoke shrouded the stage. Four dark figures with glowing halos emerged from the fog carrying light staffs vertically in hand. The figures, revealed as the well-known Empire Of The Sun dancers, slowly crept toward center stage, moving to “Lux,” Empire’s curious symphonic intro music.
Frontman Luke Steele rose from behind the stage and with a flash of light Empire Of The Sun launched into “Old Flavours,” followed by “DNA.” Wormholes projected behind the set raced on-lookers through late-'80s, Bowie-esque cosmos. From arctic realms to ocean planets, the Empire dancers animated the multi-dimensional space trip with high-caliber choreography and costume changes. Several dance moms were caught trying to mimic the moves in the shadows of the balcony.
Midway through the journey, two lucky fanatics were brought on stage for a photo with Steele, who eventually had to help them back down. What happened to the stage dive?
Steele periodically paused the performance to shout at an enormous elderly man’s head, scouring down from the stage’s backdrop. The giant face boomed stern words, which were too echoed to make sense of. But it looked like the message he was spitting was of intense, timeless wisdom from the reaches of a distant galaxy.
As “Tiger By My Side” unraveled at the end of the night, Steele brought the show to a splintering halt, repeatedly crashing the neck of his guitar into the stage. The guitar buckled a few times before Steele got serious, choked up on the neck and swung the axe, butt-over-head into the stage, sending shattered pieces of it flying.
But weren't anything new to the cult following Empire Of The Sun has garnered in the last couple years. Super-fans didn't mind the repetition, and even poked fun at the show’s predictability in loving fashion; One member of the audience screamed, “costume change!” just before Empire returned for an encore to play “Standing On The Shore” and lastly, “Alive.” More worrisome that the tired act, however, were the fleeting moments when Steele seemed gassed out during a few songs, including “Walking On A Dream.”
Even with such devout fans, pressure is building for Empire Of The Sun to revamp with fresh material if they want to avoid turning into a traveling Vegas-style act with a cult following. No official details have been released on the highly anticipated follow-up to sophomore album, Ice On The Dune. Luke Steele recently commented on the release of anything new in the near future, “Not yet. I think the record has been pushed back. We’re just gonna keep riding it until Christmas.”
We Are The People
Ice On The Dune
— new song?? —
I’ll Be Around
Walking On A Dream
Tiger By My Side
— encore —
Standing On The Shore
(Favorite tracks live: We Are the People, I'll Be Around, Celebrate, Standing On A Shore, Alive)