If you flip on a current-hits-leaning radio station, chances are pretty good that you’ll eventually hear a track by Sia, the Australian hitmaker who has made minor-key, metaphor-rich anthems like Rihanna’s stomping “Diamonds” and her own “Elastic Heart” her stock in trade. Earlier this year, she released her seventh album, “This Is Acting,” which is packed with dour bangers that emphasize resilience in the face of an uncaring and unfair world.
While the combination of stern and joyous might seem contradictory, it’s clearly resonated — the fun-on-a-budget “Cheap Thrills” had an iron grip on the Hot 100’s top spot this summer, while the similarly storming “Unstoppable” is this year’s preferred soundtrack for MLB’s postseason highlight reels.
For someone so ubiquitous, Sia prefers to keep a cloaked profile. Her videos feature dancers and actors who rage through the emotions running through her hits; in public she covers her face with an absurdly large black-and-white wig and, now and then, a just-as-outsized hair bow. Which meant that for her first arena tour, which stopped at TD Garden on Tuesday, she had to get creative on the self-presentation front.
And she did, to varying effect. She opened the show standing in the middle of the stage, belting “Alive” while wearing her signature wig and what looked like a dress with a giant, furry skirt; as the song progressed, that bottom began to wriggle, until it was revealed to be a clutch of dancers. Lurking underneath those bodies was a bewigged Maddie Ziegler, the 14-year-old breakout star of the Lifetime reality show “Dance Moms” who’s served as a muse for the singer in recent years, and with good reason; she has a boundless energy and, as the video screens flanking the stage exhibited during the performances of hers that bookended the show, a malleable face that pairs well with Sia’s curdled-wail outbursts.
For the rest of the show Sia stood off to the stage’s side, acting as an omniscient narrator of the feelings wordlessly portrayed by others — dancers on stage, boldfaced names (a pugilistic Gaby Hoffmann, a near-hysterical Kristen Wiig) mimicking those scenarios on screen. The show was an ambitious route around the reticence of its central figure, although sometimes the effect was muddied by capital-M Meaning; while a vignette pairing “Soon We’ll Be Found” with a malevolent shadow puppet was clever, the here-and-there depictions of white-collar anomie landed like a “see, this is how my songs help you” sledgehammer.
Sia’s devotion to her aesthetic brought the many faces and bodies populating the show together forcefully, and the idea of pop music’s production and consumption as “acting” for everyone involved — performers, writers, audience, and the many people surrounding them — is an intriguing (and probably correct) one. But her show’s larger-than-life aspirations resulted at times in a night that, while rife with instantly memorable choruses, felt like it was pulling the audience’s attention in too many directions, keeping the focus off the night’s withdrawn protagonist but very nearly obfuscating the music that brought her to that point.
With Miguel, AlunaGeorge. At TD Garden, Oct. 18Maura Johnston can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter@maura.