I had perfect timing: I arrived at the concert Thursday evening just in time to be blocked at the gate by a convoy of VIPs. One of the limos was carrying none other but Sia smiling ear to ear.
It wasn’t like seeing Kiss without their makeup in the ‘70s, and it wasn’t like almost being run over by the Prodigy’s van after a 1996 concert at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11. During that encounter I received the honor of gazing into Keith Flint’s face from eight inches away. Still, a Sia close-up was an achievement.
The atmosphere in the VIP section, which seemed to hold 39,000 of the 40,000 people at the concert, was very down-to-earth Israeli, like at concerts of legendary rock bands Mashina or Kaveret. The difference was that the average age was much lower – and that was interesting.
Sia – the Australian Sia Furler – is a murderous hit-making machine whose music is everywhere in ads, clothing stores, watermelon fields, you name it. But she’s still something of an icon for outsiders.
Back at the concert, two women in convincing Sia wigs distracted my attention as a tenth-of-a-second breeze interrupted the horribly humid air.
The lights went down. The smartphones went on. The screen came down. Sia entered in a huge white crinoline that turned into a group of dancers who moved to the sides. Behind them burst out someone who looked like the teen dancer Maddie Ziegler from Sia’s videos.
Only after the show was I told the close-up on the screen was a fraud and a double did the dancing on the stage. During the show the synchronization between the stage and screen was perfect and it was impossible to suspect anything.
The opening song was “Alive.” This loud number that bothers me so much in its studio version actually works perfectly live. The combination of Sia and the dancer grinding her teeth and going wild in an outfit we recognize from the videos is simply breathtaking.
I never expected it. I knew the performance would be theatrical but I never imagined it would justify Sia’s existence as an artist when we were only in the first song. No musicians were on stage, only Sia, with changing theatrical and human accessories.
Yes, except for the singing it’s a playback performance, but all the complainers are wrong; this is exactly what’s necessary. Sia’s persona fills the stage. The presence of a bass player with a ponytail from the ‘90s would ruin things. In “Diamonds,” a man with gloves coated with glass created a sparkling effect that was reflected over all the park.
In “Cheap Thrills” someone (not looking like Ziegler) returned accompanied by two post-gender dancers. Sia stood frozen in place; it’s all more contemporary and effective than anything I’ve have seen at Tel Aviv’s Suzanne Dellal Center for Dance and Theater in the past two years. A thousand times better.
I was a bit in shock because the show was visually amazing, even though the monster screens made it hard to focus on the stage. But Sia’s catchy anthems are perfectly matched to the enormous spaces of Yarkon Park.
Even her fashion show from Mars radiated charisma that I never thought would hold the stage. She didn’t need a face and she didn’t need to move, and there was no “Shalom, Tel Aviv!” or any other pop/rock cliché pandering to the audience. She knew exactly what she was doing.
In addition to the emphasis on dance, the show also had a kind of theatrical narrative that I had a hard time following. An actor sat alongside a table looking sadly at a lonely feather as a telephone on the table rang – but he didn’t answer.
Toward the middle of the show the tension dropped a bit. During one break between songs a strange sort of silence hovered over the park. Maybe the audience felt cheated? I experienced it as the calm after the shock that we had experienced. Then Sia’s voice once again took off and I was once again captivated. Electronic rain.
There was plenty to the spectacle, like a man with giant hands sewn to his shoulders. All the dancers and actors had half black, half white hair. All from the same planet. A female dancer licked the glass screen and then broke it with her head.
To a certain extent the performance by Sia was one long commercial advertisement for a cosmetics chain, but it was a great commercial. Sia’s voice held it all together – something that was almost perfect. That was it. Her song “Chandelier” and then time to go home.
Those who complained that the show was too short are wrong. You don’t pay by the minute at a concert, and Sia isn’t Metallica. Her hour-long show was perfect the way it was.
Believe it or not, I enjoyed the slightly longer performance of Die Antwoord more. The music was completely different, but there’s room for comparison because in both cases we’re talking about contemporary mutations.
Yes, despite everything I’ve written above, Die Antwoord beat Sia hands down. The difference is that I went to see this South African rap-rave band with higher expectations than what they fulfilled, while I went to Sia almost positive I’d be bored. So the difference between expectations and experience was so much greater.