Published Oct 23, 2016Sia is well known for hiding her face from her audience while performing, but her reputation as a timid performer unfortunately overshadows her aptitude for creating astoundingly innovative and engaging live shows. Her performance at the Air Canada Centre on October 22 was never anything short of captivating, as she sang from the side of the stage over a progression of contemporary dance vignettes that were choreographed to match each song. It amounted to an expert outing by one of today's most unique pop songwriters, which pushed the boundaries of what a concert can be.
The night started with a virtually showstopping performance by Miguel, who brought a short but hard-hitting set drawing primarily from his triumphant 2015 album, Wildheart. He took the stage wearing a white tasselled jacket that would've made Prince jealous and filled the stage with psychedelic murals. The following 45 minutes saw nonstop soul virtuosity, with songs that were equal parts explosive and nuanced.
The set's highlight was an extended version of album standout "Coffee," where Miguel took an otherwise quiet song and lifted it in and out of a rock jam, leaning heavily on his backing band's responsive guitar work. Once he got to his closer, the Marvin Gaye-influenced "Adorn," it felt more like a victory lap than a final song. Miguel didn't exactly upstage Sia — that would be hard to do — but he did make it abundantly clear that he's ready for his own headlining spot next time around.
When Sia took the stage, she emerged in an oversized, puffy white dress and her trademark wig and bow, standing alone in the middle of a simple white floor and backdrop. Her regular backing dancer, Maddie Ziegler, appeared from under her dress and performed her now-famous brand of interpretive dance while Sia remained fixed at the centre of the stage.
When they moved into the next song, the yearning pop masterpiece "Diamonds," it became clear what the rest of the show held for us. Sia now stood to the side, where she remained for the rest of the night, and taking centre stage was another contemporary dancer in mirror-studded gloves giving a performance that impeccably matched and added to the song.
Each song throughout the night featured its own unique dance vignette, featuring Ziegler and a handful of other dancers, and far from providing Sia with background support, their performances were just as central to the show as the music. Turning occasionally to the jumbotron, each performance looked so nuanced and well conceived — right down to the dancers' facial expressions — that it could have stood alone as a music video.
In a world that appreciated the deep artistry of pop music and placed nuance over bombast, Sia's "Nostalgic for the Present" tour would be held up against a landmark live performance like Pink Floyd's The Wall. It has at least as much to say, but does it on a more subtle level that is no less artful for its smaller size and reliance on contemporary dance. At the massive, packed ACC, Sia did something she unjustly has a reputation for not doing — she connected with the audience, and somehow managed to give an intimate performance in an arena.