Sia, Auckland NZ, 2017

5th December 2017
Mount Smart Stadium, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Sarah Kidd. Photography by David Watson.

Sia performing live in Auckland, New Zealand, 2017. Image By David Watson.

Tuesday in the City of Sails and it is starting to look like a girl’s night out in more ways than one as thousands of predominantly female fans troop towards the gates of Mt Smart Stadium in the sweltering late afternoon sun to catch an all-girl line up on stage.

Despite New Zealand’s own Theia taking the stage at 6pm – which is relatively early for an act on a weeknight where people are still trying to get across town – it was great to see that a large crowd had gathered at the foot of the stage to witness her performance. Looking every inch the classical beauty in a simple black pant suit, her hair tied back in a smooth ponytail and her signature silver shoes adorning her feet; Theia regaled the crowd with tracks such as the gorgeous ‘Champagne Supanova’ and the upbeat ‘Treat You’. Backed by her two piece band Theia was also joined tonight by a third musician, the very talented bassist Marika Hodgson, last seen accompanying Hollie Smith in support of the phenomenal Alison Moyet. While plagued with sound mixing issues, Theia still put in a solid performance worthy of her slot on such a massive line-up of artists. Finishing on the track that kick started her career, ‘Roam’ resulted in the crowd singing along to the words and cheering enthusiastically to let Theia know just how much she was indeed appreciated.

Between acts the gaps were just big enough for people to scurry off and find bathrooms or food stands; many of the fans hitting the merchandise desks for a replica Sia wig or bow.

With the sun still very much shining high in the sky, it was the turn of British singer Charli XCX to take the stage. With a simple but colourful DJ desk set up in the middle and a bank of lights on stands surrounding it, Charli XCX began her set atop the aforesaid desk, a dusky pink flag with ‘XCX’ emblazoned across it behind her. Dressed like a cross between pure rock star and clubbing goddess, Charli looked killa cool in a black latex top with silver studded pants and sunglasses to match. Kicking off with ‘Dreamer’ the twenty-five year old quickly had the crowd dancing to her poptastic beats and high energy. Jumping straight into a cover of the frenetic Icona Pop track ‘I Love It’ and the crowd both young and old were soon abandonedly shouting “I don’t care” at the top of their lungs. Dynamism was the name of the game as Charli worked the DJ desk, the stage and even at one point the crowd itself as she jumped down into the pit and balanced against the barrier to high five the sea of hands that surrounded her, the fans loving every second of the opportunity to get that much closer to their idol. “Sing it! Do It!” Charli called to the crowd time and time again; punters in the stands performing their best dance moves (in spite of the overwhelming and distorted bass that plagued some of her tracks) even getting a shout out from the pint sized starlet “ I see you over there dancing, I love it!”

‘Boys’ with its signature twinkle took the pace down a few notches before Charli introduced the latest track by David Guetta and Afrofrojack featuring both herself and French Montana entitled ‘Dirty, Sexy, Money’; upon its conclusion thanking the crowd and stating that “It’s hot in latex you know!” Delving deep into her back catalogue, admirers of Charli were thrilled to have the chance to sing to her 2007 hit ‘After the Afterparty’ before she asked the crowd if they were “feeling fancy right now”; fans cheering as they knew what was coming next. The Iggy Azalea track ‘Fancy’ seeing Charli’s DJ put on a fine turn of miming all of Azaleas parts with much animation. To end her set Charli XCX ripped out the tune that many young teens would recognise from the tearjerker film The Fault in Our Stars, ‘Boom, Clap’ seeing several young girls crooning the single with their arms linked around their friends. There was no denying that Charli absolutely brought it home for the New Zealand crowd and most certainly made some new fans along the way.

Following close on her heels, the third and final support act of the nights stage set up was in sharp contrast to the bright pinks and reflective surfaces of Charli’s; Danish born singer MØ instead going for the darker industrial with a little bit of the goth-punk aesthetic look. Dressed in a cut off long sleeved back tshirt and denim mini-skirt, her blonde hair in a short punkish cut, MØ oozed total bad ass vibes, against a black backdrop that featured her name in metal style writing; a dead ringer for a young Juliette Lewis. Accompanied by a three piece backing band of live drummer, guitarist and synths, MØ immediately threw herself full force into her set as she was everywhere and anywhere at once. Despite being an active artist from 2012 it was the Major Lazer and DJ Snake hit ‘Lean On’ that shot MØ into the realms of pop star recognition.

Indeed MØ features on many tracks currently on the airwaves and this is evident by her set list; ‘Get It Right’ by Diplo followed quickly by the Snakehips and MØ track ‘Don’t Leave’. That is not to say that she does not have her own songs, MØ informing the crowd straight after her rendition of Major Lazers ‘Cold Water’ that “the song I am going to sing now is a very old one’. Only in the pop world where top hits are churned out by the dozen could a song from 2014 be deemed as “old” – regardless MØ pulled out her track ‘Pilgrim’ from her back catalogue for the New Zealand fans tonight. One thing is for sure, MØs performance this evening was full of passion (if not a little too much bass) as she often sang on her knees, at the foot of her synth player or within a few quick steps she would bound off the stage and into the arms of the fans against the barrier. Ironically her track ‘Final Song’ would not be her last, MØ instead choosing to end her set on the aforementioned hit that brought her worldwide recognition; ‘Lean On’ seeing the crowd break in unison with the killer moves. With a huge smile plastered across her face she bid the crowd farewell as the fans cheered, more than overjoyed with her set.

As black curtains were drawn across the front of the stage and clipped together in the middle, the stadium floodlights came to life, ensuring that there was enough light for patrons to make their way to the toilets, food and other amenities before settling in for the main act of the night. Despite the usual complaints about lines (there are always going to be lines at any event) tonight’s show at Mt Smart was extremely well laid out, with helpful and friendly staff within every few meters willing to assist people with any query they may have had. Earlier in the day, as fans had begun to line up outside the gates there were even trays of water being taken around to ensure that many of the younger fans remained hydrated. Always nice to see when a venue thinks about the little things!

Nostalgic for the Present is Sia’s arena show tour, but one couldn’t help wonder if the show may have been better being held at Spark Arena when looking around at the amount of empty seats. When booked out by acts such as Foo Fighters and Ed Sheeran, all available seating is allocated; tonight the entirety of the upper grand stands were closed off with only the lower being utilized. The GA section of the field was split into two, with the front section being VIP and allowing fans the chance to line up against the front barrier that much closer to the stage.
As the clock counted down to 9pm, the scheduled time that Sia was supposed to appear, fans became restless, small groups chanting her name over and over again.

All of a sudden the floodlights were extinguished and the stadium plunged into darkness, fans shrieking at the excitement of Sia being only moments away. It would be prudent at this point to mention that the stage itself was flanked by two large big screens, which are mainly for the benefit of the people towards the back of the stadium and those who are more vertically challenged when it comes to seeing the stage. Throughout the night the camera work had been outstanding, however as the curtains were drawn back to reveal Sia standing before everyone the screens remained black. This was a shame as Sia’s entrance to the stage was stunning; wearing what appeared to be a billowing dress, before everyone’s eyes it began to pulsate and then break off, revealing the layers of material to actually be the attire of several dancers who had gathered in close around her.

It wasn’t until at least a minute or two into her opening track of ‘Alive’ that the screens kicked into life, the fans at the very back breathing a sigh of relief as they could now see… And this is where it got interesting.

As the embodiment of the art of dance itself, Maddie Ziegler leapt and bounded across the stage and around the stock still Sia, every move communicating a part of the story to the audience. However the footage on the screens had a curiously more polished look to them, with close ups that would have been almost impossible to capture live. And that was when it dawned on many of the fans that the on screen footage was actually pre-recorded.

Any true fan of the Australian songstress Sia knows that she has always directed the focus away from herself and into the music, the lyrics and emotive aspect of her voice conveying all that she wishes it to, while her videos and live performances featuring her dancers express such topics as love, loss and pain with their limbs and exaggerated movements. After moving off to the very back left corner of the stage, Sia remained almost motionless for the rest of the night, two hands gripping the microphone stand she almost looked like a forgotten toy in the back of the closet; her simple knee length white cotton dress topped with her trademark black and blonde wig and finished with a giant white bow.

Borrowing Rihanna’s song ‘Diamonds’ the stage revealed a dancer in black sitting in a white chair; as Sia dropped the chorus a single spotlight shone down into the dancers upturned gloved hands and reflected off palms that were covered in tiny square mirrors, the effect absolutely breathtaking. While the on stage performers kept in perfect time with the videos being played on screen, one could not help but feel some sympathy for the people at the back of the venue who by this point must have been wondering why they paid to come and watch music videos. There is absolutely no faulting the celluloid visuals, each one is a visceral work of art and features well-known actors such as Paul Dano, Kristen Wiig, comedian Tig Notaro and even fellow Australian Ben Mendelsohn. But when the performers on stage are reflecting exactly the same moves it felt as if they were being robbed of sharing their gift and skills with the entire audience, rather than just those in the first few rows who had an unimpeded view of them.

With no live band included on the tour either it also swiftly became evident that Sia was singing to and often over a backing track. While there is absolutely no question that Sia can sing – she is certainly one of the most highly regarded vocalists of today – at times queries were raised of whether she was singing at all when some of the most emotionally challenging tracks elicited no movement or change in measure from her static frame. And yet in spite of all of these questions the show itself was one of artistically inventive beauty. Between each song a snippet of film was played (allowing the stage to be blacked out and crew to arrange props etc) that conveyed messages to the audience; Paul Dano on the other end of a phone being abused by a garbled voice; a message to treat others with kindness perhaps. Ben Mendelsohn dancing by himself as a giant pair of hands lay atop his shoulders; the corporate puppet being controlled by his master. One of the most poignant being two giant Sia wigs atop small human frames dancing side by side; the artist becoming lost within her own thoughts and anonymity perchance?

Each piece was visually completely thought provoking; Sia ever the consummate storyteller within her vocal inflections. During ‘Cheap Thrills’ Sia spoke in hushed tones “I see you Auckland”, it was woven into the song and was so quick it would have been missed by those engrossed in the entertainment; yet it was a rare moment where Sia directly connected with the audience. ‘Elastic Heart’ saw thousands of cell phones raised in the air as Ziegler delivered one of her best routines of the night against a backdrop of bars; the relationship between a father and daughter played out with all of its intricacies. Finishing on arguably two of her biggest hits the David Guetta track ‘Titanium’ and the soaring melody that is ‘Chandelier’ and there was a distinct change in her vocals, some of the higher octaves faltering slightly in the latter. Was Sia now singing without the vocal backing track? Or like any singer after over an hour on stage, was she just proving that she is indeed human with slight imperfections?

As the stage darkened for the what seemed to be the last time, fans raucously demanded an encore which was delivered a few moments later in the form of ‘The Greatest’, Sia once again appearing in the same position she had all night but this time draped in a ruffled floor length rainbow cloak; her dancers piled on top of each other in the centre of the stage against a backdrop of muted colours. Upon conclusion of the song, the black curtains were once again drawn across the front of the stage, a tradition usually reserved for the theatre, however considering what the audience had just witnessed tonight it seemed rather apt.

Credits in the form of each of the video actors taking a bow rolled on screen; Sia notably featuring last and in the form of twin versions of herself, again raising questions of just what version did the crowd witness tonight? This then faded into film footage of Ziegler walking backstage and past members of the crew, all in some way or another bearing the trademark black and white hair colouring of Sia. Ziegler is congratulated by many as she walks through eventually ending up in the dressing room of Sia who has her back to the camera, leaning around her Ziegler says congratulations but Sia remains silent. Ziegler and the ‘make-up artist’ – who may just look a little more than familiar to long time Sia fans – in attendance laugh and call cut …

One thing is for certain – Sia’s Nostalgic for the Present is unlike any other on the tour circuit, and it certainly isn’t your standard pop show. This was Sia’s vision and she respectively played it entirely by her own rules. Draw from it your own conclusion, find within the music and visuals the messages intended just for you. Sia wouldn’t have it any other way.

Charli XCX:

Were you there at Mount Smart Stadium for this amazing show? Or have you seen Sia perform live some other time? Tell us about it in the comments below!

  1. Alive
  2. Diamonds [Rihanna Cover]
  3. Reaper
  4. Big Girls Cry
  5. Bird Set Free
  6. One Million Bullets
  7. Cheap Thrills
  8. Soon We’ll Be Found
  9. Fire Meet Gasoline
  10. Elastic Heart
  11. Unstoppable
  12. Breathe Me
  13. Move Your Body
  14. Titanium [David Guetta Cover]
  15. Chandelier
  16. The Greatest [Encore]

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