BY JEWEL WICKER/AJC Music Scene
When Sia released the music video for her single "Chandelier" in 2014 it was an instant hit. The music video, which has amassed more than one billion views to date, introduced the singer's fans to a character (portrayed by 14-year-old dancer Maddie Ziegler) they could connect with.
Determined to avoid the pitfalls of fame, Sia has utilized dramatic and eccentric means to hide her own face from cameras since lending her vocals to David Guetta for his EDM hit "Titanium." Ziegler serves as a mini doppelganger, wearing a matching black and blonde wig, and emoting in ways that Sia cannot from behind her nose-length bangs. (Look up performances of Sia prior to 2011 and you'll see the singer interacting with crowds sans a mask.)
Shortly after the curtains rise and Sia's Atlanta concert begins at Philips Arena, a group of dancers posing as the ruffled skirt of Sia's dress disperse to reveal Zeigler. Wearing a straight, white dress and matching oversized bow, Sia stands in the center of a minimalist white stage belting out "Alive." Eventually, she moves to the back of the stage. Then off the stage completely.
Ziegler is clearly the star of the "Nostalgia for the Present Tour." Her emotive expressions and dancing are just as alluring live as they are in Sia's music videos. She's joined on stage by a group of amazing dancers throughout the show. A pre-recorded video features Kristen Wig ("One Million Bullets") and Paul Dano ("Bird Set Free") performing choreography in Sia's signature wig as the dancers on stage deliver a nearly identical performance.
Ziegler and company's recreation of the "Chandelier," "Elastic Heart" and "The Greatest" videos are, unsurprisingly, standout performances. A piano version of "Titanium" which serves as the soundtrack to a dark, violent showdown of two dancers sporting giant panda and rabbit heads is also a highlight.
The problem with Sia letting others take center stage on her tour, however, is the same issue that hovers over her career. Soaring hit "Chandelier," which shows off Sia's vocal control despite the lyrics depicting a character who is losing control, and "Diamonds," which has Sia's signature sound engraved into every syllable (even on the hit version popularized by Rihanna), are exceptions. Many of Sia's songs, especially the ones she intended to sell to other artists, lack a sense of identity.
That is only heightened live as Sia sings live versions of songs such as the party anthem "Cheap Thrills," opting to stick closely to the studio versions. Even older tracks such as "Soon We'll Be Found" and fan favorite "Breathe Me" lack their usual warmth.
Sia's a good songwriter. But she also has a voice that outshines many of her pop peers. The format of this tour keeps Sia out of the spotlight. Unfortunately, in doing so, it also relegates the singer's voice to a secondary role when it should be the star.
Earlier in the show, London EDM duo AlunaGeorge entertained the audience with the infectious "You Know You Like It" before Miguel switched between popular wedding cut "Sure Thing" and the pun-heavy "Waves."