The two musical partners in Empire of the Sun will never be confused.
One dresses like a glam space alien and sometimes wears headdresses. The other doesn’t.
One loves to perform live. The other doesn’t.
But guess which one ended up with Cirque du Soleil?
“I never thought of that,” says Luke Steele, he of the sci-fi Vegas get-ups and the touring face of Empire, which visits The Chelsea at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas on Saturday.
Nick Littlemore does not go on the road with Empire, but his stretch as the composer of Cirque’s “Zarkana” — which ran at Aria from 2012 to early last year — could give the group an inside track for Steele’s dream: “Do a residency there (in Las Vegas) where we could have the most elaborate set ever built.
“Every time I say it, everyone thinks it’s a big joke, but I think it would be amazing,” he adds. “You just have to get the people here. I don’t know if we’d be able to do that for (several) nights, but maybe a few albums down the track.”
So far, so good, though, for the Australian dance-pop group whose buoyant tunes are sure to energize the Coachella music festival in California on Friday (and again April 21).
The group has already played two giant outdoor gatherings in Las Vegas: the first (and so far only) Rock in Rio on the Strip in 2015 and Life is Beautiful downtown last fall.
Empire’s effervescent sound, which came into the mainstream when “Walking on a Dream” was used for a Honda commercial, can sometimes get outmuscled by the EDM DJs with whom the group often shares festival stages. “It’s always a little strange when you come on after these sonic-boom kind of acts — Marshmello and some of the other hard-hitting kind of DJs — when you’re playing real songs,” Steele says.
But, he adds, “I think it’s always worked in our favor over the years … . I started to realize DJs have one trick, and it’s the ‘go’ button the whole time.”
But the lines blur.
“You listen to country music now and it’s got all these big windups. I heard a Keith Urban song the other day (“Sun Don’t Let Me Down”) and was like, ‘Wow.’ It’s getting so shiny that the minute you put the song on it’s going to be like your whole house turns a luminous blue plastic or something.”
Steele says Empire is a stronger live band than ever, after adding two members of the British band Gomez: singer-guitarist Ian Ball and drummer-programmer Olly Peacock.
“I think now I have such a good band behind me,” Steele says. “When I first started, it was just me for five years doing basically every aspect of the show, from the song set to the visuals.”
It took awhile for Steele and Littlemore — and their fans — to get used to a group where one of the two guys pictured on the album covers did not perform. “It keeps us sane and that’s just what works,” Steele says. “Nick in the studio is like a wizard. He commands the machines. He’s quite a sight to see.
“Leaving Nick to his devices, he can go on some pretty wild adventures.”
On the other hand, “I grew up in a blues club. Touring is like a natural thing for me, it’s like my habitat.” Steele’s father is blues musician Nick Steele, and he will be in Las Vegas to open the Cosmopolitan show with a solo acoustic set. (Australian electronic act The Avalanches will play in the middle.)
Father and son aren’t likely to be confused by sound or fashion sensibilities. But Steele does say of his dad, “I think he’s a pretty cool dresser. He has boots that he’s had for 20 years that are all kind of embroidered and engraved, and he’s rockin’ a pretty serious beard these days.”
Contact Mike Weatherford at email@example.com or 702-383-0288. Follow @Mikeweatherford on Twitter.