Live: Lorde commands and charms an allegiant audience in Raleigh | Music

Live: Lorde commands and charms an allegiant audience in Raleigh


Royal dogs: Lorde performs her chief hit in Raleigh - PHOTO BY TINA HAVER CURRIN
  • Photo by Tina Haver Currin
  • Royal dogs: Lorde performs her chief hit in Raleigh
Lorde, Majical Cloudz
Red Hat Amphitheater, Raleigh
Thursday, Sept. 18, 2014

After his brief opening set last night at Raleigh’s Red Hat Amphitheater, Majical Cloudz frontman Devon Welsh did something that seemed to surprise even him: He jumped offstage, turned around, leaned his back hard into the black bulwark that separates the front row from the stage, and posed for the cameras of several expectant fans. It made little difference that one of the world’s biggest young pop stars, the New Zealand singer Lorde, was about to play for several thousand fans during her first visit to the city, or that Welsh still had gear waiting onstage. Bounding from the apron, this seemed like something he needed to do.

“No one has ever sung along to that song before,” Welsh had said only a few minutes earlier, staring into the first few rows of the crowd, just ahead of the last tune in his much-too-short slot. “This is all very sweet.”

Throughout the early evening, Welsh had spoken to the crowd as if he were playing a small local club, not the region’s second biggest dedicated concert space. He paused frequently to thank the people strangely singing along in a general-admission pit. He kept his onstage gestures small and private, as though he were content reaching only those paying the most attention. And he kept his confessions every bit as spare and dramatic as they’ve always been, neither aggrandizing them nor attenuating them for a situation where he was, by and large, anonymous.

It seemed somehow shocking, then, that the crowd took as much from Welsh as they did. They cheered when his voice peaked into falsetto, picked up on phrases and sang them back to him, and didn’t shrink from the existential crises of songs like “Silver Bells”—“I don’t think about dying alone,” he deadpanned in a sentiment soon echoed by Lorde in a rather muted sense as soon as she opened her own set. It was hard not to be charmed by Welsh, and him, it seems, by a crowd that was open to whatever he had, or whatever Lorde wanted to bring on tour.

Indeed, Lorde seemed to hold the crowd captive even before she stepped onstage Thursday night, even before the lights went down. The audience detected that the volume in the house’s PA had been bumped ever so slightly, so that Daft Punk’s “Doin’ it Right” was louder than the Wu-Tang that had come before it. Lorde emerged simply and powerfully. Donning pleated dark overalls and a sports coat, shrouded in fog and jerking at center stage in a sort of short-circuited robot maneuver, she delivered “Glory and Gore” only with the aegis of a few white spotlights and strobes, the two-piece behind her keeping pace with drums and keeping track with keyboards. The launch possessed all the same elemental potency as Lorde’s music—spartan and specific, with no arbitrary excess.

In spite of the large outdoor venue and in spite of the ubiquity of her singles, in spite of the veil of mystery around her persona and in spite of two costume changes, Lorde carted the intimacy upon Welsh had depended into her own set.  “How beautiful is this?” she said breathlessly after “White Teeth Teens,” the second song of a set that barely broke an hour and never got stiff. “Holy crap.” After only another number, she continued with “Thank you so much, Raleigh. I’m already enjoying myself so much.” She paused later to talk about how much fun she’d been having in town, how she’d caught a Kings of Leon set  a few miles away the night before and how she’d never been embraced so much in a place she’d never been.

Not long before the set ended, Lorde delivered a long monologue about the perils of growing up and the struggles of being yourself. She commented on the several Kiwi flags in the crowd and seemed genuinely baffled by them. “I’ve always made this music in a really small room by myself, alone,” she offered, giving the crowd the feeling that they were being let in on a secret, that they’d paid for more than a mere performance. It felt both humble and human, elements retrenched by the choice to embed the hits “Team” and “Royals” within the set rather than peg them onto an obvious encore. Once Lorde left the stage, she did not return.

It was a brilliant area introduction for the teenager, who performed her first stateside show in a tiny Manhattan room just 13 months ago. And her audience seems incredibly willing to follow her lead, too; they sang along not just to Pure Heroine’s singles but to the album and EP cuts. When she covered Bon Iver’s “Heavenly Father,” a song that’s only been available through a soundtrack since the start of the summer, people listened intently, as if teasing out the foreign lyrics about loss and liberation like they were Lorde's own fresh wisdom.

In a way, they were. The cover felt like an important choice for Lorde, and not just because of Justin Vernon’s regional roots in the city she happened to be playing. With its sampled and resampled vocals and shape-shifting drums, “Heavenly Father” is one of the stranger songs Bon Iver has ever released, a piece that’s closer to the spirit of his work with Volcano Choir than the folk stuff of For Emma, Forever Ago. It’s a lesson I hope Lorde takes to both heart and head. She’s got an allegiant, intrigued audience, and I think they’d follow her wherever she might try to go, at least for a while.

On stage, it would be interesting to see her push these songs harder, to add some frisson beyond the sequencers and synthesizers. At one point last night, the combination of her writhing and a ghastly image on a video screen reminded me of Zola Jesus, a singer who mines some of the same pop and gothic influences but turns toward provocation where Lorde heads for pop. Last night’s show was better than any of the half-dozen Zola Jesus sets I’ve ever seen—more honest, more endearing, less self-conscious. But there’s some strangeness to be borrowed from the elder, I think, or at least from the intuitive appreciation of the outlandish that Lorde seems to have.

During her rest-heavy version of “Royals,” two bull terriers stared down at the singer from overhead screens. Next time, I hope, the beasts are a little stranger, but the performance no less generous.

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