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Empire of the Sun bring a festival-season sampler to Bill Graham Civic with St. Lucia, Holy Ghost!

Empire of the Sun


Empire of the Sun

Photos by Steve Carlson // Written by Molly Kish //

Empire of the Sun with St. Lucia, Holy Ghost! //
Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – San Francisco
September 19th, 2015 //

The middle of September is a strange time in the Bay Area as the playa dust of Burning Man still lingers in the air and many attempt to keep up with the city’s limitless social calendar amidst the palpable intensity of visiting tech conferences and vacationing crowds. While the rest of the country is in a collective comedown, preparing to transition into fall and the impending holiday season, SF is hitting its fever pitch as festival season draws to a close.

Point in case: last Saturday’s bill of Holy Ghost!, St. Lucia and Empire of the Sun at the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Holy Ghost!


Holy Ghost!

NYC’s nu-disco torchbearers Holy Ghost! brought the dance party early, opening the show with an unfortunately timed 7:30 p.m. slot. While die-hard fans cut their pregaming short to make the effort to catch their set, the 2015 festival circuit staples definitely had to work extra hard to get the early arrivals on their level. Making the most of the moment, Nick Millhiser and Alex Franke busted out a mini set of crowd favorites with their backing band, prompting the ascending audience members to literally dance their way through the entrance into the auditorium. They called out those unfamiliar with their tunes to start moving, and the band playfully broke up their set with ad libs directed at the crowd, including but not limited to “Let’s go San Francisco! It’s fucking 7 o’clock!”

St. Lucia


St. Lucia

St. Lucia took the stage second, amassing a large crowd of indie-pop enthusiasts who were ready to commit fully to a pivotal switch from club-heavy hits to over the top-pop eccentricity. Nothing shy of what you’d visualize while listening to the band’s breakthrough album When the Night, frontman Jean-Philip Grobler’s vocals washed over the venue in a sea of nostalgia-inducing synthpop. Drawing from Grobler’s South African upbringing, St. Lucia’s sound relies heavily on call-and-response choruses, percussion breakdowns and kaiso-calypso influences. Crowd participation was inevitable, which from the opening bars of the band’s set, was coerced by the vivacious frontman with fan-generated wind flowing through his perfectly coiffed hair. St. Lucia ramped it up a notch halfway through their set, delving into extended versions of their songs that mimicked electronic remixing via live instrumentation. The dance floor was at its peak during these moments as Grobler prompted the audience to get completely lost in St. Lucia’s “yacht pop” euphoria.

After a brief interlude and set change, Empire of the Sun took the stage. The anticipation had already been running high, physically manifesting itself as fans came together to represent the “Empyrean” elite with many of them donning homemade head dresses, face masks, body suits, theater make-up and more. Consequently, EOTS shows breed a certain level of spectacular that throughout the years has escalated from just a performance to a fully immersive audience experience.

Empire of the Sun


Empire of the Sun

Setting the bar extremely high with a near cinematic entrance, EOTS frontman Luke Steele emerged from center stage in his full stage regalia and was immediately surrounded by a chorus of Broadway-caliber back-up dancers. With only two full-length albums under their belt, EOTS have always heavily relied on bringing their rock-opera material to life through eccentric live shows and theatrics, all of which was still very much at the forefront, minus Steele’s partner Nick Littlemore.

Though the two have had years of well-documented disputes when it’s come to touring, it’s still disheartening as a longtime fan to only have ever seen a one-man version of EOTS live. Of course, leave it to Steele though to be an absolute professional and still put on an incredible performance even in Littlemore’s absence. While mentioning that they had been working on a brand-new program for this tour and he was beyond excited to perform it in such a place, those paying close attention couldn’t help but be distracted by his partner’s absence in this over-the-top production.

Empire of the Sun


Empire of the Sun

Steele, however, still rose above the occasion and pulled off an incredible show even with a few awkward filler moments and prolonged eccentricities. His vocals were unbelievable, his multi-instrument mastery was impeccable and his all-around stage presence was something that not many contemporaries can compete with. Even in the most difficult moments, I watched a new generation of EOTS fans collectively have their minds blown. Certain parts of the show thinned out the audience, whether it was due to the intrinsically odd nature of the performance or just a lack of familiarity with the material, but if you were amongst the fans who stayed until the very last note was played, you were undoubtedly treated to a strong finish.

As Steele belted out “Alive”, the hit single off the band’s sophomore studio album Ice on the Dune, to close things out, he brought the audience to a transcendent place of exhilaration. Crowd members embraced and danced amongst a like-minded family of people lost in the moment, even if it involved intergalactic creatures dancing in colored smoke and a crowned Emperor playing without his bandmate on stage. EOTS shows are a special kind of magic that regardless of the material’s absurd nature, translate into an experience unlike anything else.

Setlist:
Lux
Old Flavours
DNA
Half Mast
(Unknown) (Del Zamora spoken interlude 1)
We Are the People
Awakening
Concert Pitch
Celebrate
Ice on the Dune
(Unknown)
Surround Sound
Swordfish Hotkiss
I’ll Be Around
Breakdown
Walking on a Dream
Tiger by My Side
Standing on the Shore
(Unknown) (Del Zamora spoken interlude 2)
Alive

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