SIA and MIGUEL at the Air Canada Centre, Saturday, October 22. Rating: NNNN
Stepping into the Air Canada Centre, it was clear that a Sia show was gearing up. Fans of all genders wearing the singer/songwriter’s blunt-banged, monochromatic wig crowded the packed arena, happily posing with other fans.
But first, we got Miguel. Initially the Sia-Miguel pairing seemed odd, but its ying-yang approach made for a dynamic night. Backdropped by shifting celestial psychedelic screens that concealed his band, Miguel appeared in a fringed black leather jacket behind a fringed white leather mic-stand that Stevie Nicks might lust after. He played a magnificent 50-minute set that drew almost wholly from his 2015 genre-crossing album, Wildheart.
Showcasing a sexy ability to dance and sing as if no one else were in the room, he smartly focused on his be-true-to-yourself material, which aligned well with Sia’s rise-from-the-ashes empowerment anthems. Fans hoping to hear risqué tracks NWA, The Valley and …GoingtoHell were out of luck unless they also attended his 19-plus Rebel show later that night. His riskiest moment occurred during a “Fuck Donald Trump” singalong. The Mexican/African-American L.A. native said he hoped Trump’s dangerous divisive rhetoric would lead to unity triumphing over fear.
Miguel's raw energy was the perfect contrast to headliner Sia’s stillness and refusal to give a conventional performance. Shrouded by an oversized feathered dress that released actual dancers, the Aussie hit-maker opened the show with Alive, positioning herself in the corner of the stage, not moving or addressing the audience until her single-song encore, her black-and-white wig concealing her face as it has for the past few years.
A tool of defiance and self-preservation? A unifying creative trope? Whatever the case, the now-famous wig has allowed the shy artist to protect herself against public scrutiny, face arenas full of fans and create a symbol as identifiable as a cone bra is to Madonna.
It also inspires questions about fame. Can a stage persona be more than a gimmick? Does an artist have to interact with the audience? Must a pop star take centre stage? In many ways Sia’s refusal is similar to Miles Davis's – he famously performed entire shows with his back to the audience.
A sparsely lit stage and no backing band left the focus entirely on her wigged cast of contemporary dancers, most notably the magical 14-year-old Maddie Ziegler. Expertly choreographed vignettes mirrored pre-taped Jumbotron performances by actors like Kristen Wiig. The Jumbotron drew attention away from the stage as we tried to determine what was occurring in real time.
Herein lies the challenge and brilliance of the Nostalgic For The Present Tour: we began to question everything, including whether Sia was there at all. A stand-in was entirely possible in a show that blurred the lines between present and past. We had to trust Sia, and she had to trust our ability to intimately connect with her even when standard forms of expression were stripped away. And we did.
During the 16-song set, which drew heavily from 2016’s This Is Acting (a deluxe edition featuring new tracks has been released) and 2012 track Diamonds (made famous by Rihanna), Sia showed stamina, as her latest single, The Greatest, featuring Kendrick Lamar, declares.
In the mumbled, manic whispers that filled the space between each vignette to her raspy, absolutely electrifying vocals, she revealed herself in a deeper way than if she’d recounted monologues all night. For the encore, she wore a multi-coloured Spanish-style dress, while dancer Ziegler sported a black wig and multicoloured war paint, a departure from the monochromatic theme that may signal a new thread in this creative concept.
Few artists can pull off this kind of show with such subtlety and force. Sia’s powerhouse vocals, stunning songwriting and matchless vision transforms the way we experience arena concerts and our pop stars.