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Boston Calling 2016: Sia

Sia – Boston Calling Spring 2016
Sia performs at Boston Calling on Friday, May 27.

While Boston Calling has in the past hosted now-world-famous, mainstream artists on the upswing of their popularity—Kendrick Lamar was the festival’s third headliner in 2013, less than a year after the release of his major-label debut—most of the biggest artists it has previously attracted have a decidedly indie bent. Sia, then, is the festival’s first veritable popstar. On the remainder of her tour in support of her new album, “This is Acting,” she plays mostly arena shows; for her, Boston Calling is a relatively small venue.

Perhaps as a result, Sia’s performance differed radically from the others that the festival has hosted. As she sang on a podium—completely still, given that she probably has a difficult time seeing through the bangs that cover her face—dancers acted out what resembled music videos onstage. The screens showed not live footage of the performance but pre-recorded and edited studio footage of the same dances and skits. The skits featured well-known actors like Paul Dano and Kristen Wiig, as well as Maddie Ziegler, the dancer from the viral music video for “Chandelier;” nevertheless, some nearby members of the audience were at least temporarily convinced that the screens showed an extremely well-shot version of what was happening on stage. The videos coordinated impressively with the onstage dance, and the vague narrative portrayed a nice feature, but they also made Sia’s set feel like it wasn't really a live performance at all. For almost everyone in the audience, save those quite close to the stage, the screens dominated the visual field. Because Sia was motionless and had almost no stage presence, the screens easily attracted the majority of the audience’s attention. The experience was thus more akin to watching a series of music videos with thousands of other people than a live show.

At the same time, it cannot be denied that Sia is a talented live vocalist, and the conceit of the show is certainly creative. Though her hit “Titanium” has been played to oblivion, her deft handling of its demanding vocal range made for an enjoyable listen. And at least for the first few songs, the pure novelty of the music video-cum-set sustained the performance despite Sia’s lack of stage presence. Were Sia not so immensely popular, however, the audience might soon have lost interest. As is, the numerous Sia wigs in the crowd testified to her wide appeal, and the crowd as a whole seemed enraptured throughout the set. Sia performed all of her hits—“Titanium,” “Chandelier,” “Elastic Heart,” “Cheap Thrills,” and a gorgeous rendition of “Breathe Me,” a song from her more indie days—as well as a cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” all of which drew enthusiastic cheers. Pop stars like Sia, it seems, can get by without stage presence.

—Staff writer Grace E. Huckins can be reached at grace.huckins@thecrimson.com.

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