It was an important couple of shows for the duo – by their own account, the live show is a vital part of the new Empire story. “It’s mainly a similar story to what we set out writing the record about,” frontman Luke Steele dead-panned to inthemix. “My head piece creates dreams of the world and animals are born. They get stolen by the King of Shadows and there is corruption so we have to set out on journey to regain my head piece to restore sanity to the world.” With that, inthemix set out to catch Empire’s grand return and, just as we did at Kraftwerk, learned a few things on the way…
1. Nick Littlemore is hard to pin down
When the lights dimmed, the smoke machine kicked into gear and the music started to swell, Luke Steele was lifted onto stage on a rising podium, fist raised in salute and headdress on. Nick Littlemore, however, was nowhere to be seen. Perhaps he was off writing new Pnau material. He could have been busy scoring Cirque de Soleil with Elton John. Maybe he was just at home on the couch, watching his bandmate do it for the both of them on the Vivid live stream. We can’t tell you where one half of Empire of the Sun was, but we can be sure that he wasn’t at the Opera House.
It’s not the first time Littlemore’s been conspicuously absent, either. “It was kind of heartbreaking at first, I was like…you’re not going to come on the road?,” Steele told Pedestrian about his bandmate’s absence from the Parklife ’09 tour. “But we’re in the same band! Then he just said to me, “when there’s real money on the table give me a call”. And I was like “I don’t know real money you’re talking about, if a million dollars for five shows isn’t real money, then I don’t know what is”. So I was like, okay, I’ll go tour it.”
2. Back-up dancers and costume changes aren’t just for pop stars
How many costume changes does it take to put on an Empire of the Sun live show? About 10, apparently. Throughout the 70-minute set, Luke Steele and his small army of very flexible back-up dancers proved they’ve mastered the art of slipping backstage for the blink-and-you’ll- miss-it costume change. Luke swapped headdress and cloak a couple of times before winding up in a gold lamé number for the big encore, while the dancers worked through a string of skin-tight bodysuits adorned, variously, by fluoro pink guitars, red tutus around the neck, mounds of white fluff on their shoulders and other feats of design I can’t adequately describe. Step aside, Katy Perry.
3. People like the new stuff
Second album Ice on the Dune might not be out yet, but that didn’t stop the crowd enjoying it just as much as that platinum-selling debut album (even if sing-a-longs weren’t on the cards). We Are The People and Walking on a Dream were obvious standouts, but the biggest moment of the night was reserved for the encore of new single Alive. So if the Opera House audience is any gauge, Ice on the Dune is going to fare alright.
4. Just because it’s a seated event, doesn’t mean people are going to sit down
It was bad news for lazy types who were looking forward to sitting down for the show (yes, that’d be me) because midway through the third song, Luke Steele commanded everyone to stand up. Unfortunately the Opera House isn’t really made for dancing, instead permitting only an awkward shuffle in the metre square you’ve been allocated. But that didn’t bother the crowd, who by and large seemed to relish the chance to throw in the odd fist pump.
Besides, sit down and the rows of bodies in front of you will block the theatrics happening on stage – which, really, is as integral to the show as the songs. “It’s pretty much as important as the music,” Steele told inthemix before the show. “It’s like the colour of the skin of the music or the blood or the hair. It’s all encapsulated. Like Chad Atkins said “people hear with their eyes”. That’s the quote I always use.” So there you go.
5. The days of smashing a guitar on stage aren’t over
Dance music audiences aren’t often treated to the unpredictable on stage element live music has. Sure, there was that time Skream unplugged his mixer and handed it to someone in the crowd (“I was clearly smashed,” he later admitted) but for the most part, DJs are usually pretty well behaved on stage. So when Luke Steele ended the show by smashing his guitar on stage with no shortage of force, it was hard not to enjoy the spectacle. Was it all a bit over the top? Sure, but that’s Empire.
Photos by Dan Boud.