Luke Steele

Altered Impressions: Empire of the Sun Under the Coachella Stars

It was a few years back when I first heard Empire of the Sun and was immediately drawn to their  genre-traversing folk-tinged electro sound. Soon

Luke Steele in the Emperors Clothes

after hearing ‘Walking on a Dream’ I tracked down the album and remember thinking how goofy Luke Steele and Nick Littlemore looked on their cover. If I hadn’t heard their music first and only saw their album cover I would have thought it was a soundtrack to a Sci-Fi film about an intergalactic empire. Although the cover is a little silly, the music is infectious as alot of music out of Australia seems to be these days with the output from Modular’s camp and other guys like Captn K of Picnic Records (who I particularly dig and have written about in previous posts). The obvious highlights are the first half of the album which includes “Standing on the Shore”, “Walking on a Dream”, “Half Mast”, “We Are the People”, and “Delta Bay” because they all share an obvious connection to each other whereas a few tunes further in almost derail the album due to  the pacing of it that slows down and just throws me off my groove. After chugging through the first half, I always find I need more patience to embrace tracks like “The World” because of how mellow it is in relation to what precedes it, not necessarily because its a bad song so I usually move forward to “Swordfish Hotkiss Night” and “Tiger By My Side” to bring that upbeat vibe back.

However, pursuing the impressions left behind in my noggin after their Saturday night set at Coachella, I am forced to re-assess my overall view of Empire of the Sun and explain how they have evolved (for me) in the aftermath of a weekend in the Desert.

Let me start of by saying that I wasn’t so sure what their live set would entail since what I heard/read of their performances in Los Angeles late in 2010 were not very positive, but maybe it is the vibe in the desert that suits them. Either way, what they brought to the stage on Saturday night  was an intoxicating dose of musical theatricality and fantasy that I truly did not expect to witness. For example, the Sci-Fi Futurism of the cover is brought to life on stage with Luke Steele fully in character as the Emperor of his imaginary Empire. Other characters populate the stage during different songs, some of which look like a cross between Parliament Funkadelic costumes and Emperor Palpatine ‘s Royal Guards in Return of the Jedi that you can see during their performance of “We Are the People.” During “Walking On a Dream,” the scene is less militaristic and the geisha-like dancers evoke a dreamy vibe that had all the revelers in the crowd fully immersed, at times almost seeming to bridge the gap between performer and the crowd as everyone one appeared to be swept up during the chorus of the song when Luke’s beautiful falsetto emerges after the pre-chorus, singing about the rapturous feeling of human connection:

We are always running for the thrill of it, thrill of it
always pushing up the hill, searching for the thrill of it
on and on and on we walk calling out, out again
never looking down I’m just in awe in what’s in front of me

Is it real now
when two people become one
I can feel it
when two people become one

It’s a simple enough hook but in the context of the performance, it was the perfect combination of words for the people who made that connection with the performers onstage.

The Emperor's Pink Guards...So fierce right?!

As standout tracks go, “We Are the People” is a particularly powerful track and has always been a favorite of mine, but it’s their live performance of it that has transformed me deeply. There is always one reaction I get with special music that starts in the middle of my chest, moves to my throat, chokes me up, fills my eyes with tears, while the original chill expands from the chest throughout my whole body leaving me speechless. I can close my eyes now anytime I listen to that song and remember where I was when I experienced the deep impact of that transformative moment while sitting poolside with my closest friends a few miles from Coachella watching the show projected on a large screen via the webcast. The convergence of visual choreography (costumes and dance moves included) in conjunction with their dreamy dance music in a place under the stars as beautiful as the Empire Polo Fields is the ideal setting for EOTS intergalactic dreamscape to unfold. Just watch the opening number “Standing on the Shore” and check out how they set the tone for everybody to become apart of their world.

Everything about this band seemed somehow disjointed as I mentioned above prior to seeing their live performance but I’m happy to revisit my views especially since with everything I thought about their album clearly exposes my failure  to fully grasp their vision since it is clear now that the

Dancers from Empire of the Suns performance

visual component is as intrinsic to the band as what you hear on record.With the union of these two elements, the fantasy component provides an escape from the chaos in the real world, and perhaps we need detours into imagined realms  such as this to remind us of the importance of human connection and during their performance it seemed that connection is exactly what the band had set out to accomplish. As I stood watching the set from the webcast, I definitely felt a profound connection from the live performance dramatically enhanced by the visual elements that, along with their music, transported me from my poolside oasis to the Empire of the Sun — can’t wait to go back!