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Huge streams of multi-coloured confetti blast high into the air before fluttering down to coat the front half of the dance floor like a swathe of fairy bread. It’s fitting, because it looks like a party up there. Sydney’s Enmore Theatre is sold out and the crowd is fired up. Ben Woolner, SAFIA’s frontman, has everyone singing the chorus of My Love Is Gone. In silhouette, he runs from one side of the stage to the other before he drops to his knees and leans down to sing into the faces of the front row. Cameras flash and he holds this pose on his knees, but leans his torso back. What could be mistaken for a grand finale is actually the first song of the set.
The Enmore feels like a nightclub as lasers drape the crowd, blinding white lighting up one strip of bodies at a time. Drummer Michael Bell and synth-sampler-guitarist Harry Sayers are both high on pedestals either side of Woolner, lit by spotlights. He, however, remains with no light on his face for the entire show. Behind the band are projections of their signature animated statuesque bodies. Icy blue and stony grey severed hands and arms slowly spin. A head splices into spinning discs and floats away.
Put me back together / Fix my broken mind
Counting Sheep starts with Woolner waving his finger side-to-side, high in the air, to the sound of a clock tick-tocking. The opening riff of Stairway To Heaven is played on electric guitar and it’s a drawn out, dramatic montage that leads us to the chorus. The crowd shouts the words as a cartoon animation wearing a Mayan mask stomps along in time with the kick, amidst melting buildings and blazing fire.
Tick, tock, make me creep / Never ending counting sheep / Never get no sleep
For Listen To Soul Listen To Blues the stage is washed in blue. It’s stripped back, string synths holding one lush chord underneath the soft unfolding melody. The crowd is engaged, drawn in to the quiet. When the impending drop returns, the dance floor pulsates again. He sings that same sweet melody above the deep house, stopping at one point to let the crowd take over his part. It morphs into a huge electro break down until the song ends. The graphics take a backseat as the energy of the room drops a little, and arpeggiated synths flicker and float above the kick. The backdrop dips to black and geometric shapes glow behind them.
The way that SAFIA drift in and out of progressive deep house and hook-heavy pop is bold and adventurous. The sub bass and drums send tremors through the floor and high searing synths are glassy and crisp, cutting through that density. When this drops away leaving the vocals bare, Woolner’s voice is powerful on its own, singing melodies that are unashamedly pop. He flips between a low richness and a flawless falsetto, layering harmonies in preparation for those inevitable drops. His vocals at times become heavily processed, moving from deep mechanical to a high vocoder and back again, indiscernible as human. SAFIA are fearlessly theatrical with both the music they write and the way they deliver it onstage.