A Troye Sivan concert leaves one with two major impressions: One, it’s amazing the magic he can weave using so little and two, the juxtaposition of his sonic/video/TV show performances — where he comes off as an androgynous, gay sex-starved coquette gyrating lasciviously — dovetails quite nicely with his stage/interview persona where he’s self deprecating, down to earth, sweet seeming, even anodyne.
That’s not a twofer you’d necessarily think would work. His Aussie accent helps. With his bleached blonde hair, blue eyes, lanky, 115-pound (it appears) frame, the 23-year-old seems positively angelic but you’re never quite sure if he stayed with the good angels like Gabriel and Raphael or is working undercover in Lucifer’s throng.
Last week’s D.C. concert at the Anthem where he played the eighth show of his current 26-date “Bloom Tour,” (his album dropped Aug. 31) felt in some ways rather minimalist. A couch and a few lamps during the ballad set were the only props. The rest of the time the only visuals were — an impressive backscreen light show notwithstanding — Sivan’s four-piece (two guys/two girls) band and Sivan himself. There was an outfit change or two but the clothes were so non-glam and unmemorable he might have just as likely been out for a stroll on the D.C. Wharf.
There were no video projections, no appearances from any of the fabulous, gender/bending clothes from the eye-popping “Bloom” video and nary a peeking nipple — kind of a Sivan trademark — was seen all night. No choreography either. Sivan just sort of bops around — he jumps, he spins, he twirls, he gyrates, he almost-but-never-quite-rubs himself — as the spirit moves. No backup singers (though the players did add some vocals), no dancers, no pyrotechnics. It was spare, but spare in a refreshing way. You never felt he didn’t have those things because he couldn’t yet afford them. This is only his second record, so maybe he can’t, but the minimalism felt chosen not resorted to.
Last time he played Washington (not counting his ebullient June appearance at Capital Pride) — at the 9:30 Club in early 2016 — it felt like teenybopper girls’ night out with some gay men mixed in. This show felt like the inverse. It was almost all 20s and 30s gay men, like a gay high holy day young professionals night, with about 15 percent straight gal pals along for the ride.
When you’ve been (as I have) to way too many shows by veteran acts in their golden years with 30-plus-year careers behind them, it’s fun to see an act only on his or her sophomore album. Whatever the new album is, it gets played almost in its entirety, there’s true energy in the room, people sing along en masse to every song whether it was a single or not and the performer feels genuinely thrilled to be there. These are still new experiences and unchartered terrain. They’re still giddy they can fill the next size venues up from their last tour.
In Sivan’s case, that meant we got to hear all 10 cuts from the “Bloom” record in mostly faithful arrangements. The only unexpected twist was “My My My!” went into dance club remix mode (double-time beats) for its last couple choruses. It worked — the crowd (fairly packed on Anthem floor but not sold out) ate it up.
It was impossible to tell how much of the actual music was live. At times Sivan would take a line here and there a fifth or an octave above where he sings it on the album. The album vocal would keep going but you could never quite tell if that was recorded or live BGVs from the band. It didn’t matter — the vocals were stellar all night. If some beds were recorded, you never sensed for a second it was to save him any taxation.
Seven cuts (four from the new record) made a killer opening set. “Plum” and “Lucky Strike,” neither singles interestingly, were arguably the most beguiling. Sivan sold them with abandon. Only on “Wild” did the relative simplicity of his choruses feel a little threadbare; in other spots it just seemed to buoy the sing-alongability of his tunes.
A four-song ballad set provided a nice mid-show contrast with room for acoustic piano and guitar accompaniment. “Bite,” a bonus cut from his first album “Blue Neighborhood,” was the only semi-dud bouncing back and forth between a finger-snapping, sing-songy sort of thing to thundering drum solos that felt a little whiplashy. You could see why it was a bonus cut but I guess you gotta get a little creative to fill out a set when you’re only on your second record.
“Dance to This” and “Animal” closed out the main set. “Animal,” a fine song, wasn’t quite the best choice for that slot, but it wasn’t a catastrophe. “Youth,” fist-pumpingly ecstatic, and “My My My!” (of course) were the encores.
The banter was just the right amount. Sivan talked about walking his dog around D.C. that day, went on and on about how great it was to see everyone, expressed concern for the mashed-together crowd (there are no seats on the Anthem main floor), told the crowd he wanted to “see you guys go fucking crazy” during key musical climaxes (we happily obliged). It was all just fun. You didn’t have to overthink it, you just soaked in the joy of having such an out-and-proud headliner who could fill the place among us. We might argue how much of a groundbreaker Sivan is. Yeah, we’ve had Rufus and Jake Shears (he’ll be here Oct. 31, by the way) before him but those singers were always — in much different ways — a bit left of center. Most of us admire Rufus Wainwright but he’s somebody you might put on at 4 a.m. during a nightcap, not somebody you want to blast on a summer road trip.
Sivan is the middle ground. His album doesn’t beat you over the head. You’re not immediately sucked in by its hooks the way you are by, say, Charlie Puth or Shawn Mendes. But let it soak in and you see how much understated beauty and warmth is there. Sivan hit all the right notes realizing “Bloom” in a live setting. It’s sort of a mellow, hot tub-and-sex album; it wouldn’t have automatically worked in a large room yet Sivan and the crowd together made it pop live.
His pal Leland opened but I missed his set. Trans pop princess Kim Petras gave a super-fun, eight-song set from about 8-8:35 full of Cyndi Lauper-esque pop hooks and big, rafter-raising vocals she pulled off beautifully with unwaveringly good pitch.
The merch was underwhelming. Sivan looked more like a washed-out ghoul on his own shirts which were — as we have come to expect at such events — obscenely overpriced (Ts went for $40 and except for ball caps and pop sockets, it went up from there).
KIM PETRAS (8-8:34 p.m.):
1. All the Time
2. I Don’t Want it All
3. Hillside Boys
5. Unlock It
6. Close Your Eyes
7. Heart to Break
8. Can’t Do Better
TROYE SIVAN (9:07-10:30)
6. Lucky Strike
9. The Good Side
10. What a Heavenly Way to Die
11. Better Now (cover)
13. Dance to This
16. My My My!