Review: Sia bares soul without showing face at Palace

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

When you’re headlining an arena concert but you’re not very fond of performing or even showing your face, you have to get creative.

Sia's Nostalgic for the Present Tour at the Palace of Auburn Hills in Auburn Hills.

“Creative” is certainly one word to describe Sia’s performance at the Palace of Auburn Hills Saturday night. Other words that come to mind are “audacious” and “frustrating.”

At times the 16-song, 80-minute show felt dynamic. At others it felt like a hoax being perpetrated on the audience, a light crowd that saw roughly a third of the Palace’s upper deck curtained off to crowds.

Sia was on stage, or at least someone that looked like her was; it was difficult to tell because a wig (underneath a giant bow that outdid even Aretha Franklin's at President Obama's inauguration) covered her face other than her mouth. She was tucked into a corner of the stage and she barely moved, other than a few arm movements during “Soon We’ll Be Found,” and she only briefly addressed the audience, offering a curt “Detroit, I see you!” an hour into the show (did she, from behind that wig?), a “thank you” to the audience and her openers near the end of the show and an “I love you, goodbye” at evening’s close.

There was no visible band. Songs were acted out on stage by interpretive dancers, all wearing a variation of the Sia black-and-white wig, and the action was projected onto video screens on either side of the stage. Or at least it looked like it was; the videos were actually pre-filmed bits that featured the likes of Kristen Wiig and Paul Dano, who most certainly were not the dancers on stage.

To recap: artist was on stage but immobile and obscured, music was pumped in from somewhere else, dancers were different from those seen on the big screens. It felt a bit like Club Silencio from David Lynch’s “Mulholland Dr.,” where the performances are taped and everything’s an illusion.

It was certainly unique, unlike anything else unfolding in the arena sphere these days. It was the Australian singer and songwriter’s first area concert since a 2011 show at Saint Andrew’s Hall, back when she wasn’t as shy about showing her face. The years since have seen her become one of pop’s most in-demand songwriters, penning hits for David Guetta (“Titanium,” which she performed), Rihanna (“Diamonds,” which she also performed), Beyonce, J. Lo, Kelly Clarkson and others.

The songs were dramatic, building to bombastic choruses that played out like soul baring confessionals. They were all vocally challenging but Sia’s vocals were flawless and never wavered, scaling the high highs of “Chandelier” and the soaring peaks of “Fire Meet Gasoline.”

The dance routines were simple but effective; during “Diamonds,” a seated dancer waved his diamond-studded gloves at the spotlights and beamed light across the arena, and during “Soon We’ll Be Found,” a man projected large shadow puppets onto a wall which hung above the dancer on stage and controlled her movements.

It was an intimate, beautiful show rendered less effective by the size of the room. For those not on the main floor, sightlines marred the straight-ahead visual presentation of the plain white stage and plain white backdrop. It was essentially community theater on a grand scale, and while the sound certainly filled the room, the visuals left a lot to be desired. Something at the Fox Theatre or even the Detroit Opera House would have been a better fit.

During his exceptional hour-long opening set, Miguel offered plenty of charisma, energy and audience interaction. He told his personal story, got political by starting an anti-Donald Trump chant, spoke about the racial discord in America and hit the splits to boot. He was the opposite of Sia: If she didn’t want the spotlight on her at all, he couldn’t get enough of it.

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