Empire of the Sun never ceases to impress me. I first discovered the band in 2012, when I Shazam-ed “We Are The People” while browsing the teen section of my local Nordstrom (though admitting this will surely lose me any indie cred I once thought I had).
I went home and listened through their first album Walking On A Dream and was vaguely unimpressed. Though I liked “We Are The People” and “Walking On A Dream,” the two singles released on the album, the rest of the album initially seemed bland in comparison.
As I continued to listen through the album, however, Empire of the Sun’s unique and enthusiastic synth pop sound grew on me. With each successive listen to the album, I discovered a new favorite track. After “We Are The People” and “Walking On A Dream”, I discovered “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” and two years later will name “Standing On The Shore” as my favorite of the album. Perhaps unsurprisingly, at Empire of the Sun’s cameo at the Fox Theater in downtown Oakland last week I had a similar experience.
I had the pleasure of attending Empire of the Sun’s Thursday performance last month, part of a two-night stunt in the Bay Area amidst the flurry of Fauxchella. I arrived with a friend to the dazzling Fox Theater an hour before set time and quickly realized why Another Planet Entertainment’s booking of Empire of the Sun at the Fox had been a fantastic decision. The Fox Theater is a revitalized old movie theatre outfitted with high, intricately detailed ceilings and God-like statues carved into the baroque pillars surrounding the stage. Upon entering the theater I saw that Empire of the Sun had drawn an older crowd, and that I was predominantly surrounded by a crowd of fit, middle-aged, shirtless and costumed gay men from San Francisco’s Castro district. The eccentricity of the venue and the attending audience nearly rivaled the whimsicality of the performance itself.
The show started with a bang as Empire of the Sun front man Luke Steele, dressed as his alter ego Emperor Steele, rose from beneath the stage decorated with elaborate eye makeup and touting his usual suit and helmet attire. Cannons shot fog into the crowd and gold lights spiraled around the stage. Four athletic women outfitted in shiny nylon and dressed head to toe as swordfish contorted themselves in various positions to the overlude of “Old Flavours”. Nick Littlemore, with his long curly locks and open-front shirt, joined Steele onstage as Lord Littlemore, making an appearance on tour for the first time in several years (Steele has been known to tour as Empire of the Sun alone).
Through the next series of songs, selected seemingly on shuffle from both Walking On A Dreamand Ice On The Dune, Steele and Littlemore took the audience on a tour around the universe. The whirlwind of color, lights and 8-bit graphics that accompanied the setlist documented the fantastic story on which the band was founded. Emperor Steele and Lord Littlemore travel through time and space to a variety of empires throughout the universe that worship the sun. Highlights of the visual performance included the extravagant costume changes mid set, fog cannons and raining confetti, the contortionist swordfish dancers, and the over-the-top finale. Creating a perfect interlude pre-encore, Steele smashed his stylized electric guitar at the head of the stage.
While some artists utilize extravagant visual performances to compensate for disappointing live sound, the flashing lights and onstage dance party only served to compliment Emperor Steele’s beautiful melodies. The audience could not help but jump around to the danceable, psychedelic synth pop refrains of “Old Flavours” and “Celebrate” of Empire of the Sun’s Ice On The Dune. Likewise when the duo dropped “I’ll Be Around” towards the end of their set, couples grabbed hands and swayed side to side while chanting along to the romantic chorus.
Empire of the Sun’s seventy-five minute set was nothing short of a theatrical performance. At the beginning of the night, Emperor Steele took my hand and he led me throughout the night on a journey across the universe. The live performance expanded my previous love for Empire of the Sun’s music; without having witnessed the performance my experience with the band was not complete. My experience with Empire of the Sun has been a never ending journey, as I am constantly discovering reasons to love the duo more than I did previously. I know to switch onWalking On A Dream whenever I want to get away.