Was she really singing? Yes, gloriously so on “Breathe Me” and “Chandelier”, and most of the rest of the time without extra vocal tracking, or so it seemed. Could you ever tell from the screens? Not really, and it’s likely only those jammed along the rail close to the stage actually saw Sia‘s mouth move. Was there a band hiding somewhere? Nope. Was Kristen Wiig actually there? Nope again. Nor was Paul Dano, nor Tig Notaro, nor any of the other famous faces that appeared in odd-fitting wigs and inspired costumes to flesh out inward pains and outward insecurities of Sia stand-ins and symbolic Everymen, all via rivetingly choreographed pantomimes that engulfed the screens. Except yes, there were non-famous dancers and avatars for the artist’s id recreating these routines almost exactly in real time.
So what was really happening up there on that almost blank canvas of a stage? What the hell did we just watch?!? In short, a work of fake-out genius that would make Orson Welles beam with pride, a marvelous performance-art piece that will have people raving (or ranting) for years to come. Savvily culling cues from masters of this particular form — Bowie, Madonna, a whole lot of Pet Shop Boys, early Kate Bush — Sia concocted the most stunning sight on the Coachella stage since Kanye’s triumphant 2011 production. This one might top it in terms of leaving everyone guessing. We’re still wondering how she could take it to the next level on tour — add a camera crew swirling around the action to further blur the surreality, or back it with a real band to take it next level. One thing’s certain: If you streamed it at home, you didn’t really see it. –Ben Wener