Empire Of The Sun made their second New York stop of the summer last night at Pier 26 on the Hudson River. The Australian duo recently released their long-awaited second album, Ice On The Dune, and has spent much of the past two months touring, kicking off in New York at the Electric Daisy Carnival earlier this season.
In order to even begin to understand their music, it’s important to at least briefly understand the band’s backstory. Originally, Emperor Steele (Luke Steele, formerly of The Sleepy Jackson) and Lord Littlemore (Nick Littlemore, formerly of Pnau) travel to different empires in space and time that supposedly all worship (what else?) the sun. Things have since deviated a bit from that, considering their latest video was set in the suburbs of San Fernando Valley, but the theme of extravagance remains a constant.
There is no question that Empire Of The Sun has a schtick. In a lot of cases, schticks are used to mask inadequacies of some kind, from poor vocals to poor songwriting to bland personalities. In Empire’s case, it just adds to an already solid package. If you disregard the massive headdresses, the Adam Ant makeup, and the dancing swordfish girls, what you have left is a collection of beautifully crafted pop songs that are not only catchy, but thoughtful. I’ll Be Around, one of two ballads on Ice On The Dune, is a stunning track of electro-pop perfection. Its gravity allowed Steele to be incredibly dramatic on stage, moving around in his sparkling black and silver floor-length jacket so gingerly that he looked like a movie in slow motion. Cinematic is the only way to describe it.
Littlemore did not appear to be performing with Steele last night, which felt a bit like history repeating itself, as he bailed on the tour for their first album (Walking On A Dream) as well, citing a scheduling conflict. But Steele held his own, light-up guitars and fog machines in tow. And—let’s be honest—it wasn’t Littlemore’s avant-garde metal hats we were there to see anyway.
Steele is an interesting vocalist in that he rarely sings in the middle range. He’s always grazing the lowest end of the vocal spectrum before jumping up into his signature falsettos, not often stopping to bridge the gap. His digitized album vocals come through much stronger live than I expected. And, of course, his costume changes did not disappoint. As he rose onto the stage to perform crowd favorite Walking On A Dream, he revealed his third outfit of the evening: an electric blue sequined coat with matching metal headpiece (one of many jacket/helmet combos).
Steele made it through most of Ice On The Dune while still managing to squeeze in quite a few tracks from Walking On A Dream, considering the set capped out at just over an hour. The only disappointing moment was the extremely short, one-song encore. Steele closed the show with Alive, the first single from the new album. Energy was at an all time high, with Steele ending the night by smashing his guitar into the stage. And then the show suddenly ended. The Emperor descended into the floor and that was that.
This show presented the rare instance of the fourth wall: the audience was only a viewer, not a participant. Unlike many live shows, there was little to no dialogue between Steele and the crowd, except for a “How ya doin’, New York!” every now and then, but no one really seemed to mind. Empire of the Sun is not trying to be relatable—it’s asking the audience to embrace the escapism that Emperor Steele is offering: to run away and take an adventure. And sometimes that escape just means putting your head down and dancing.