Violinist/dancer/artist Lindsey Stirling played a delightfully choreographed, explosively engineered show to a packed house at The Orpheum in Vancouver. It was empty up in reviewer row but they appeared to be just about the only free seats in the joint, and we were nearly up at the top of the room. At least it allowed us to appreciate the beautiful ceiling in the classically-styled venue! Inspecting the stage set-up prior to the start of the performance showed a central tall podium flanked by staircases leading to the stage floor, with every piece backed by LED screens. The fronts of the podium and the risers on which perched the drumset and keyboards were also LED screens. Finally, smoke began to fill the room, and from where I was perched, I could see Stirling’s dancers start to file out to sidestage and wait in the wings to start their parts. Blindingly bright pink lights began to pulse all over the stage, and Stirling suddenly appeared on the main podium, perfectly silhouetted by a bright white screen as she began to play.
Stirling’s career is relatively new, and her rise to this level of fame happened from a grassroots level. She was notoriously passed over on America’s Got Talent not all that long ago, and her earliest Youtube videos, not even ten years old yet, show an adept yet unpolished talent trying to figure out her presence. The internet is a powerful tool though, and through her unique sense of costuming, artistic vision, and maybe a few well-placed covers of major movie scores, she started to win over a number of people, notably/impressively cracking through to the increasingly-influential gamer/con/cosplay set. This range of fans was here tonight – from young teens to hip moms to steampunk-costumed folks. To start, Stirling was outfitted in a casual ensemble of cheetah-print shorts, pink suspenders and kicks, and the tiny powerhouse tore, leapt, skipped, kicked and sluiced around the stage. Her four female dancers appeared to be operating as decoys for the first while, making it seem as though she was appearing and disappearing all over the place in a split second as the lights flashed on and off. They were playing fake violins as well, and finally, near the end of the opening number, they all grouped up on the stage and danced in sync.
While Stirling’s dance moves would likely be considered simple and modest to an expert choreographer, it needs to be noted that she is playing a dang violin while she’s bounding all over the place at high tempo, doing a combination of hip-hop, burlesque, ballet, yoga and Irish dance. Her flexibility is amazing, and the prospect of remembering nearly two hours’ worth of choreography that needs to match other dancers and backdrop video imagery while doing something as cerebral as playing the violin is nothing short of remarkable. After her second song, she finally greeted the audience, breathless, from a microphone positioned at one side of the stage that was there primarily for her to tell stories. Even while talking, she’s a spitfire – really peppy, cheerful and genuine. She comes from a place of hardship and has not taken her success for granted. She seems eager to pass encouragement along to her viewers, likely aware many come from a similar place that she does. After warmly telling us that she loves coming to Vancouver for our amazing energy, and welcoming first-time Lindsey Stirling concert-goers ‘to the family’, as a cityscape began to roll across the screens, she left the stage to do the first of many costume changes, into a pink tulle ballet-style skirt. Between her and the other dancers, some stories were told through the night – good vs. evil, ridicule, loss, euphoria. There was a huge response from the room for “Elements,” one of her breakthrough videos and songs. As that video seems to aim to illustrate, her songs bring you back to nature somehow, despite the presence of a lot of electronics in the music.
She left again after this, bridging her absence with a fun video, set up as though it was being filmed live, that shows off an ‘everything that can go wrong, will go wrong” backstage flubfest, culminating in the reason she ends up in her next costume, a whispy blue dress. This video also served to distract us from what Stirling later referred to as her “stage ninjas” (so called because her earlier term for them, stage fairies, didn’t go over so well with the men on the crew), who were busy setting up a few instruments and microphones in a tight cluster at the front of the stage. She was joined at the front of the stage by her band, drummer Drew Steen and keyboardist Kit Nolan, who emerged in the bathrobes they had been wearing the video we had just watched. They sat there, after a few sweet stories from Stirling’s childhood, and played a medley of songs that included the first song she learned on the violin and some movie songs that surely appealed to the nerds in the crowd, all on a child’s tiny violin and some toy piano and drums, as well as acoustic guitar and cajon. Her rapport with her band is clearly great and the three of them together are adorable.
There was a sombre moment when she discussed her great friend and former bandmate Jason ‘Gavi’ Gaviatti, who had been her keyboard player her entire career til now, when he was diagnosed and quickly became very sick with cancer. He passed away in November 2015, and she told us how heartbroken she had been, how she couldn’t even get off the couch for ages. Her new album titled Brave Enough, is largely about dealing with this loss, and about being brave enough to get up again and keep going, to have the courage to feel again and be vulnerable again. She told how the album takes you on a journey from being reserved and closed off, to being warm and open. She also played a video during a song that she had made with tour footage that had been played at Gaviatti’s memorial service. Very moving moments.
Soon, it was time for another costume change. While Stirling was off stage, her dancers came out in a kind of Joker style get-up to do a light slapstick/magic routine around into the crowd while silent movie-saloon piano music played. I couldn’t see them, but could hear the audience reacting with laughter as they performed some tricks. They came back with paper flowers in hand so I assume they had done some ‘appearing items’ trickery. When Stirling emerged again, she had on a flashy ringmaster’s costume, and her band had on t-shirts with tuxedos printed on them. She continued to play all the while dancing, and occasionally, becoming the subject of a couple illusions. This was also pretty impressive and easily the coolest sequence of an entirely cool night. Afterwards she brought out the most important member of her touring entourage… her little dog Luna. Luna was wearing a matching ringmaster outfit and was meant to perform a couple of tricks, but in the pressure and confusion of the live room, seemed to be able to only master the ‘sit’ portion of the sequence, and then continued to sit. And sit. And sit. No matter what Stirling asked of her, she sat. Stirling handled this beautifully as well, showcasing an easygoing and fun-loving nature. Through the show so far, we had seen her play a bunch of different violins, from bold red and black electrics, to traditional style, to a glittering white rhinestone-bedazzled one. After one more costume change into an East India style set, Stirling bid the theatre farewell as the crowd got to their feet in an enthusiastic standing ovation.
The lighting techs hit the brights to coax cheers out of the audience. They understood quickly what was being asked of them and only hollered when the lights came on, which happened in varying bursts. “Woo!…. Woo!…. Woo!…. Wooooooooooooooo!… Woowoowoowoowoowoo!” The encore featured Nolan on guitar, and the dancers in a good vs. evil western prairie chic costume and set-up, while Stirling herself showed up in a tight neon outfit bedecked in stars. The dancers brought out white screens, behind which they disappeared and disrobed down to matching neon spandex. When they emerged, the stage became bathed in blacklight, and those girls glowed as they danced up a storm (including tap now!) to send us to the end of the show. As the crowd rose to its feet again, Stirling, her band and her dancers all came out for a bow, and she threw a few hearts to the crowd before saying goodbye and leaving the stage one last time.