Empire of the Sun flourishes at night. The electronic duo presented its music as a spectacle, prioritizing showmanship over sound in its set on Saturday night. Luke Steele stalked out in a tall headdress through a textured smog of backlit stage smoke, posing theatrically behind his keyboard, while Nick Littlemore appeared suddenly, silhouetted against the projected backdrop, poised, hand hovering just above his guitar strings.
The palpable anticipation for the band’s first song gave way to a roar of cheers and raised hands as the music started. From then until Empire of the Sun closed its show, the audience members mirrored the band’s incessant motion as they watched the extravagant parade of costumed dancers and rapidly flashing lights.
Empire’s set captured the energy of a rave, and with it, the throwaway quality of the music. That’s not to say Steele and Littlemore’s music wasn’t good — it was — but the exact song they were playing at any given moment didn’t feel like an important distinction. The music became an accompaniment to the light show.
When dancers in LED cone hats or leafy crowns or duck-billed caps were dancing vigorously at center stage, attention was siphoned off from the sound of the music to admire the novelty of this animated eye candy.
This was the case up until Steele grabbed a blue LED cape and abandoned his keyboard and guitar to run along the edge of the stage, singing the band’s hit single “Walking on a Dream.” Suddenly flung into a definitive lyrical realm, every audience member sang along with Steele amid the smoky haze and haze synths: “We are always running for the thrill of it, thrill of it.”
The other big hit of the night was “Alive,” a song Empire of the Sun performed to geyser-like jets of smoke and a rainbow spectrum of spotlights, but with enough lyrical recognizability to drag the audience out of its state of stunned visual overload to sing along.
Before closing the show, Empire cut the stream of lights and sounds to black for a prolonged, tension-filled pause. Steele then smashed not one but two white electric guitars, flinging them down onto the stage and holding up the snapped neck and dangling strings to the overwhelming joy of the audience.
There was no reason to do this — no Green Day punk angst built up from a show rife with political lyricism. There was only the motivation of creating the unparalleled excitement that spikes in a crowd from the occurrence of something unexpected, pushing Steele to follow through with the showy sentiments that had driven the band’s full performance.