Sia offers a Technicolor dream show and Girl in a Coma finds a pulse on a Sunday night in Chicago
April 25, 2010, at the Vic Theatre
By Jacob S. Knabb
Published: April 27th, 2010 | 9:00pm
A standing-room-only crowd of teens, twenty-somethings, and hip parents filled Chicago's Vic Theatre for the eclectic twin bill of Girl in a Coma and Sia. In the weeks preceding the show, there had been a great deal of online exchange between Sia and her fans about the tour’s memorable moments, the singer’s dogs (and their irritable bowels), and the songs she might be singing on this night. The excitement continued to the theatre where a vibrant atmosphere welcomed Girl in a Coma to the stage.
GIAC’s singer Nina Diaz struck a compelling figure on stage: her long, dark curls partially obscuring her face, her arms covered in well-done, colorful tattoos, and her gray guitar slung low, which allowed her to move around behind her mic stand with the guitar at her knees as she plucked out chugging rhythms and tore up and down the fretboard to lead the band through a tight set.
Diaz’s fingerings were precise and the growling axe sounds she was able to produce were overwhelming. Diaz's vocals are often compared with Morrissey, and during the band’s set, she was able to maintain a controlled vibrato as her voice modulated between husky growls and cleaner tones near the top of her register. Her sister, Phanie Diaz, held things in check with crisp drumwork as she pounded out 4/4 beats and hovered over her Gretch drum kit, with her choppy orange hair bobbing as she pounded out the backbeat. Her style of play was very “meat-and-potatoes,” as she wasted no time with theatrics or drum stick flourishes, and thereby remained in lock-step with the guitar and bass (Jenn Alva).
GIAC drew upon their entire catalog for the thrilling set, but the highlights came from their current Adventures in Coverland, a series of 7-inch EPs that covers the ground of everyone from David Bowie to Patsy Cline. The biggest crowd response was a bristling version of “Queen of Tejano Music” Selena's mid-tempo ballad "Si Una Vez" that shifted the original melody to Nina Diaz's guitar and elevated the urgency of the balladeer's cries.
The stage was then transformed into a crocheted landscape to welcome Sia—everything from the mic stands to guitar straps and amps were covered in brightly-colored, crocheted yarn that glowed like neon under the stage lights. The floor and backdrop featured diagonal stripes of white and bright colors, and Sia’s name loomed large in puffballs of yarn at the center. The backing band wore jumpsuits that featured the same diagonal pattern which blended in with the yarn and allowed Sia to dominate the show.
Sia's set was loose and playful to mixed results. It was amazing to see the give-and-take between Sia and her affectionate audience, especially when she brought three young fans onstage to provide sign-language and later to recreate her signature video for the song "Soon We'll be Found.” Fans tossed stuffed animals, books, and junk food onto the stage and Sia thanked each and every person for this quirky array of offerings, at one point gathering all of them up and stuffing them into her stretch pants.
Highlights included performances of "Little Black Sandals" and "Buttons,” a track that best distills Sia’s blend of New Wave nostalgia with Toni Braxton–influenced vocals, which creates a 21st-century hybrid of Blue Eyed Soul. And then there was the impromptu moment when a crowd of fans asked to come onstage and dance with the band, which added another layer of accessibility.
The downside of all the fanfare is that things often felt like an in-joke, a show for the initiated. The constant banter and long breaks between songs disrupted the flow of the set, which frustrated fans unfamiliar with Sia’s work. This was a show that could only exist because of today’s bustling online communities, a post-Twitter performance where pre-show fan interaction is both acknowledged and rewarded.
Still, many performers would be wise to take note of the sense of
community and intimacy Sia has cultivated. This sort of bond is nearly
impossible to fake and goes a long way towards creating lifelong fans
who will purchase albums, stand in line for concerts, and legitimately
connect to the work. Perhaps no moment better illustrated this than
when an audience member shouted out that she had tattooed a line of
Sia's lyrics onto her body. Sia invited her onstage to share her ink.
Bouncers hoisted the college-aged fan and Sia greeted her with a warm
hug. The crowd whooped and hollered when she flashed her body art,
a line of verse in a cursive font that spilled across both of her
wrists. It was a moment of authentic intimacy and indicative of what
fans in love with Sia can expect on the rest of this tour.