Coachella 2014: Empire of the Sun brings pomp and circumstance to the rave tent

Empire of the Sun performs in the Sahara Tent, on the second day of the second weekend of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, April 19, 2014.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

You couldn’t really blame Luke Steele for being annoyed.

At this point, the frontman for the Australian synth-pop dance outfit Empire of the Sun is probably more than a little tired of being upstaged by a certain robot mask-wearing electronic music act.

And Empire of the Sun’s prime-time Saturday night gig in Coachella’s Sahara Tent had this misfortune of being programmed against a buzzy set by Pharrell Williams on the festival’s Outdoor Stage that had many in the crowd of 90,000 paying attendees wondering if his frequent collaborators Daft Punk would turn up as surprise guests for the multi-platinum-selling producer-turned-performer’s Weekend 2 rendition of his chart-topping single with the robots, “Get Lucky.”

PHOTOS: Faces of Coachella


You’ll recall that last June, Steele complained to NME that Daft Punk’s album “Random Access Memories” was outselling Empire of the Sun’s LP “Ice on the Dune” more due to salesmanship than superior songcraft.

“They had a great marketing campaign but we have better songs,” Steele told the magazine.

On Saturday, Daft Punk did not cameo during Williams’ set. But Empire of the Sun delivered a high-octane performance that stands out among so many energetic sets at the so-called “rave tent” by virtue of its theatricality, pomp and circumstance.

In an aircraft hangar-sized venue more commonly associated with strobe lights and the faceless, high-decibel oontz-oontz-oontz of so many electronic dance music superstars, Empire of the Sun brought an unusual level of showmanship to the Sahara Tent with a troupe of synchronized dancers decked out in feathered costumes, glow-in-the-dark instruments and an eye-popping laser light show. And in his towering, barbed headgear and floor-length golden coat, Steele looked like some kind of dance music pharoah or gold lamé-bedecked disco Viking – a considerable step up from the anonymous jeans and t-shirt ensembles of so many EDM tastemakers.

PHOTOS: Coachella Weekend 2

Even if Williams’ set was arguably Saturday’s most anticipated performance, Empire of the Sun thronged their tent with as dense a crowd as Coachella has ever hosted. And the crush of humanity threatened to overwhelm the group’s delectable dance confections early in its set.

Running through the duo’s biggest hits – “Living on a Dream” and “We Are the People” – Steele seemed to close out the group’s second weekend Coachella performance by smashing his guitar onto the stage a la Pete Townsend before storming off.

Of course he and bandmate Nick Littlemore returned moments later for an encore of sorts, Empire of the Sun’s anthemic “Alive” with its chorus that tidily sums up the group’s impact on the capacity crowd:

Hello to my people

Say hello to the future

Lovin’ every minute ‘cause you make me feel so alive


Coachella 2014: Full coverage

Coachella 2014: 10 rising acts you should know now

Coachella 2014: Fest to now offer fancy four-course meals

Twitter: @__chrislee