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SIA, HAR MAR SUPERSTAR

Club Congress, Saturday, Feb. 16

If you were to assess the track record of cultural exchange between the United States and Australia, it might appear we've gotten the raw end of the deal. The minus column is pretty substantial: Mel Gibson, Young Einstein, Silverchair and the Bloomin' Onion.

Then again, in the plus column, we've gotten The Saints, AC/DC, Dot and the Kangaroo and now ... Sia.

In her sold-out show Saturday night at Club Congress, Down Under's latest pop princess was a refreshing reminder of just how fun and frolicsome pop music can be.

The good times began with opener Har Mar Superstar posing the question: What happens when you take the vocal stylings of an Off the Wall-era Michael Jackson and place them in the body of a Danny DeVito-esque exhibitionist who likes to strip down to his sweaty underwear and dry-hump the mic stand? The answer: a rockin' good time, of course. Har Mar's oversexed antics had the crowd cracking up and hooting love declarations.

Everyone was in a good mood for the arrival of Sia and her band, who slipped onstage under the glow of blacklights to perform "Buttons" while dressed in psychedelic neon stick-figure costumes. This set the tone for the rest of the evening: playful, unpretentious and unrepentantly joyful.

Rolling Stone may keep trashing her albums, but the fans clearly love Sia, and after Saturday night's performance, I can see why. She and her band brought an effusive, dynamic energy that crackled with each song; most the tracks came off her new release, Some People Have Real Problems, including her smoky version of the Kinks' ballad "I Go to Sleep" that gave me chills. She's a powerhouse singer who manages to accomplish exactly what you want from a live performance: for it to sound even better than the record.

My favorite number of the evening was "The Codependent," a track off an unreleased album she told us had gotten her dropped from Island Records for departing from her persona as a "down-tempo artist." Which is ironic, because Sia's infectious enthusiasm works wonderfully for a rock song. This same sweetness carried over into her between-song banter, when she accepted song dedications from the crowd via handwritten notes. "I love notes!" she exclaimed. "I also love hugs and compliments."

Well, how about this one: You've restored my faith in pop music, Sia. Come back soon!

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