It’s the intertwining of two of the most unpredictable stories in the modern history of Australian music. One begins in Newcastle, riding a wave of post-grunge into orchestral arrangements, pop flourishes and deep electronica. The other begins in Perth, trading in the world of indie rock for the bright lights of Hollywood and becoming Australia’s most unexpected and most eccentric popstar.
Yes, there’s enough history in Daniel Johns and Luke Steele separately to fill a book. Their long-awaited union, however, continues their tale in a way that makes one, as Alice in Wonderland may put it, curiouser and curiouser. Put it this way: There are not many people that could justify their third-ever show being in the concert hall of the Opera House, playing primarily songs no-one has heard for over an hour on a Tuesday night. Oh, and those first two shows? Coachella. No biggie.
One by one, as the lights go down, the pieces begin to fall into place. After each member of the backing band fell into line, Steele and Johns made separate grand entrances – each sporting Zoolander levels of high fashion, because why not. Neither are strangers to the Vivid festivities – Empire of the Sun performed here in 2013, while two years later Johns made his solo debut.
If both of those shows were reflections on how far each man had come from their original projects, consider Dreams a two-handed effort in dragging the yardstick even further afield. It’s simultaneously provocative and colourfully fun – an instant rile of anyone expecting either one to return to their rock roots, although still with plenty of guitar noise thrown in for good measure.
Johns and Steele are now Dr. Dream and the Miracle, respectively. Theirs is some surreal science-fiction futurista that has seemingly gone through some sort of Mad Max-esque uprising. It’s full of outlandish aesthetics and brassy electronica complementing it – even more so than Empire of the Sun, if that’s even possible. With heavy vocoder, booming beats and even flourishes of harp for good measure, it’s far and away the most ambitious sounding effort either has been a part of.
For moments in-between songs, Steele and Johns return back down to earth and share jokes between one another – a reminder that, for all the theatrics, it’s still a passion project between two longtime mates. A split second later, however, and they’re flying through outer space at full force with a captive concert hall along for the ride. You’re never entirely sure where it’s headed, but you’re compelled beyond belief to go with them.
Review – David James Young
Photo – Daniel Boud