It's a good thing that Sia performed in the waning hours of Sunday night (Apr. 17) at Coachella, because the singer-songwriter effectively shut down one of the biggest festivals in the world with her live show. Following years of refusing to perform live, Sia offered up a staggeringly imaginative display of artistry at Coachella, composed of interpretative dance, moving performances and awe-inspiring vocal power.
During the hour-long performance, Sia ceded the majority of the main stage to a collection of dancers, who performed routines that were also previously taped and simultaneously aired on the monitors in high definition. That amount of coordination and organization was impressive enough, but watching each song get its own set piece with distinct characters and wordless plots was simply unlike anything Coachella veteran has ever seen. Sia's performance existed as a big-budget musical, and once the scope of the performance was revealed, it was a treat to watch her pull it off.
On "Diamonds," a man presented his disco-ball gloves to the audience and watched as beams of light bounced off of them. During "Bird Set Free," Paul Dano emerged as a corporate slave entranced by the wonder of a feather. Sia's show featured Kristen Wiig crying in a metal chair, a rabbit and panda involved in a domestic dispute and a woman in oversized trousers smashing panes of glass to exert her power. Throughout the performance, Sia was to the side, face covered (as expected) and soaring through her melismas with ease (also expected). The visuals never overshadowed Sia's singing; instead, the stories helped her tell those of the songs more persuasively.
And a special shout-out must be given to Maddie Ziegler, the Dance Moms star who has been collaborating with Sia ever since the "Chandelier" music video became a YouTube sensation in 2014. Ziegler starred in a half-dozen performances during Sia's Coachella set, some with other dancers, some solo; in all of them, her choreography was top-notch, her facial expressions were piercing and her presence was mesmerizing. This was Ziegler's show as much as it was Sia's, and the dancer was the most surprisingly indispensable performer of the weekend.
Sia did not need to do this. She could have taken her spot at center stage behind a microphone, sung her hits for an hour and been successful. But that would have been ordinary, and Sia is anything but ordinary.
Her Coachella performance tapped into a sincerely moving amount of emotion by earnestly committing to an aesthetic and containing the ambition to see it through. It was a challenge to every other festival performer content with playing the hits: Do better, dream better, tell the audience a story.
Here's the story of Sia's Coachella performance: it makes every other performance she has scheduled this year a must-see. Experience Sia live in 2016, and witness an artist operating on a higher plane.