How does a pop artist electrify a sold-out arena while remaining motionless and obscuring her face? Sia’s been answering that question all year, with a combination of artful distractions and vocal command, and on Tuesday night (Oct. 25), the showcase that has dazzled Coachella, Panorama and huge venues across the country in 2016 elicited the same frenzied response from Brooklyn’s Barclays Center. There was no stage banter, false movements or deviations from the well-worn setlist; Sia’s current show is painstakingly manicured. But if each pre-planned detail is breathtaking, who cares if it’s pre-planned?
For those who have yet to experience Sia’s show, it’s not really a Sia show at all, but an avant-garde dance production, starring “Chandelier” breakout dancer/actress Maddie Ziegler and soundtracked by the Australian singer-songwriter’s sweeping tunes. Ziegler possesses an astounding control of her physicality, leading her fellow dancers in matching the pre-taped performances that roll alongside the show (and feature actors like Kristen Wiig and Paul Dano, who are not in attendance for the tour) and synching with the choreography, leap-for-leap. Having watched Sia’s same show sans Ziegler at Coachella in April, Maddie’s presence adds a mischievous energy, as if replicated movements can’t capture the heart behind those wide eyes and deranged smiles. The set pieces would fall apart without her persuasion, which is why the weaker moments of the show often came when she was offstage.
Sia is never offstage, but she’s never totally on it, either; the powerhouse prefers to stay literally to the side of the action, standing behind a microphone and with a blonde-and-black wig covering her eyes. Her lack of movement — compared to the dancers, but also compared to any other arena-level pop performer — underlines the force of her vocal strength through isolation. Perhaps if Sia was high-fiving the crowd, partaking in the choreography or goofing around in between songs, her voice would be a little less overwhelming, each song a teensy bit less moving. As it stands, however, songs like “Bird Set Free,” “Elastic Heart” and a slowed-down “Titanium” are delivered flawlessly, to the point where one doubts if Sia is capable of messing up a vocal run or flubbing a melisma.
This year has featured some huge pop spectacles — Beyonce, Adele and Justin Bieber among them — but none as creatively captivating as what Sia is doing onstage in 2016. For an artist not prone to sprawling tours, Sia fully understands how to make the live experience feel vital.