When Lorde became widely known following the release of her hit single "Royals," the term "goth" was quickly attached to her music, and even more to her visual style. Vanity Fair referred her as the Queen of Darkness.
Well, the goths didn't get that memo, and Lorde's sold-out show over the weekend in Denver seemed to be mostly attended by the kind of mixed crowd any rapidly rising pop star might draw, from children all the way to seniors who haven't dismissed Lorde's songs as silly kids' stuff. For her part, the singer born Ella Yelich-O'Connor seemed completely in command of her powers as a performer while also projecting a subtle but deep vulnerability. She displayed a surprising degree of self-possession, something that many people take most of their lives to develop. Perhaps that capacity could fulfill the clumsy requirements of genre tags like goth or emo, but in this case, they're limiting. No great (or potentially great) pop singer would be worth much without an ability to articulate emotional tenderness and honesty, and Lorde just might be a great pop star.
See also: Lorde at the Fillmore -- full slideshow
Chances are that Lorde didn't set up the lighting system or directly design it beyond the concept stage, but whoever oversaw the details really created a dynamic and creative light show that accentuated the spacious layers of sound and the spare, finely textured, rhythms. Lorde would gesture dramatically, and a burst of light would snap on in the background. Her dancing, and even some of her vocals, were reminiscent of a fellow artist who is no stranger to dark, haunting atmospheres: Zola Jesus. Lorde sang hunched forward at times with a shroud covering her head, and at other times standing, as though imploring higher forces to aid her in delivering her vocals. Live, Lorde's music came off more as some well-conceived and executed alchemy of hip-hop beats, lush trip-hop atmospheres and the outsider art pop of a band like Cocorosie. You could hear the hint of a stylistic nod to the percussive textures of Sleigh Bells. Lorde's economy of composition seemed more obvious when heard in a large room, and her uncluttered songwriting and gift for using space and quiet in exactly the right proportions gave the music a strong, fluid dynamism.
A superficial listen in a coffee shop, grocery store or office might obscure some of that detail. More obvious on first listen is that it is upbeat. Moody, too, but somehow uplifting and soothing. Her music represents gentle catharsis more than it dwells on personal darkness.
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Before "Ribs," Lorde had her most obviously confessional moment of the show. It sounded rehearsed but not scripted. She paused, and her voice quavered with what sounded like genuine feeling. She told us how she wrote the song in February 2013 on a Monday morning, after a weekend when her parents were out of town and she had as massive a party as one can have in a small house with her sister, her best friend and several of their friends. Throwing that party, Lorde told us, felt like an adult thing to do. But it made her think about becoming an adult and what happens if you still want to be like a kid and do stupid kid things.
She said she grapples with being in both the kid and the adult worlds. She also admitted that when she writes songs about those sorts of things, it isn't from a place of assuming she has things figured out. Instead, the music is written in the hope that someday she'll remedy the situation.
Then she addressed the audience more directly and said that coming to this show, she knew there would be people her age there, in high school, and older people who connected with what her songs were about. Both kinds of connections, she said, are what she seeks in writing and performing. While she spoke, you got the feeling Lorde was being sincere. And there was a sense that she was opening up as a performer to a shared emotional experience. She wanted to leave you feeling like you'd connected to someone beyond shared pain and angst.
If that connection is what goth is about, maybe Lorde has elements of that in her songwriting. But it felt more like the kind of pop music that has endured because it takes a chance on speaking to one's personal truth at a specific point in one's life with a refined but vibrant emotionalism.
Lorde's music has resonated with teenagers and those who remember well what it was like to want to look strong while feeling so deeply insecure. Lorde is certainly not the first artist to articulate that feeling, but her ability to do it so clearly probably means she's here to stay.
Opener Lo-Fang, a trio led by singer/guitarist/violinist Matthew Hemerlein, created an organic and detailed sound not unlike that of Tindersticks. At times it also bordered on a Celtic folk sound, like a chamber-pop band branching out of the usual arrangements. When he sang, Hemerlein showed hints of influence from Dave Gahan's brooding soulfulness, Jamie Stewart's expressive falsetto and perhaps even Mark Hollis' understated warmth and conviction--or whomever both men have influenced. It was earthy, moody music that, while electronic at its base, gave one a sense of tangible presence.
Lorde Set List at The Fillmore Auditorium - March 22, 2014
1. Glory and Gore 2. Biting Down 3. Tennis Courts 4. White Teeth Teens 5. Buzzcut Season 6. Swingin' Party [Replacements cover] 7. Still Sane 8. 400 Lux 9. Bravado 10. Easy (Switch Screens) - Son Lux song 11. Ribs 12. Royals 13. Team 14. A World Alone
Bias: I'm a big fan of pretty much any musical artist from New Zealand, because all of them are coming at their art in consistently interesting ways. While I wasn't immediately taken with Lorde's music in the same way as I was with the Straighjacket Fits, the Mint Chicks or The Naked and Famous, her songs grew on me, and this show proved that she's someone who will probably go on and create music that will be immediately appealing to me.
Random Detail: I did see one old Rock Island T-shirt, so maybe a few of the goths are clued into Lorde as a worthwhile artist.
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