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Wednesday
Mar262014

Lorde ricochets from intimate to intimidating | Concert review

By Joseph Sutton-Holcomb / Special to The Seattle Times

I didn’t show up to WaMu theater expecting to see Lorde deliver a rote, boilerplate performance, but at the same time, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a pop show that heartfelt.

It was the story she told toward the end of her set that did it. She was introducing “Ribs” one of the softer tracks on her debut album “Pure Heroine,” out last September.

“I’m going to tell you about this song,” she said.

She wrote it in February of last year, after her parents left town and she threw a massive house party. There was almost something mature in doing that — in filling a house with friends — she continued. “But once you do something that is adult, are you in that world forever? That concept is always keeping me up at night.”

I don’t know if she’s done that spiel at every stop on the tour. I don’t care. Impromptu or not, she made it abundantly clear in the space of a few sentences that she’s more emotionally candid than 98% of her more aged pop music counterparts.

Oh, and the music was great too.

There’s been some press about her live songs trending darker. That was definitely the case much of the time. The opener, “Glory and Gore” felt twice as fierce live, propelled by live drumming that gave many of her other songs (like “Buzzcut Season” and “Team”) a rock anthem texture last night.

Plus, she really seemed to dig the in-person percussion. Every time some nifty drumming coincided with a break between verses, she was dancing like someone possessed. She has a twitchy, manic dancing style reminiscent of the girl in the Exorcist, except it’s a good thing.

Other songs like “Tennis Court” and “Ribs” stayed truer to the atmosphere of J.D. Salinger-esque melancholy she cultivates on her album.

But my favorite cuts were the dark ones, the ones where she slowed the songs down, or plunged the bass into industrial electronica territory. Her version of “Royals” ceased to be a radio single and became an earnest declaration of independence from rockstar materialism.  “Easy,” her song with producer Son Lux, fused choppy drums, gothic synths, and nightmarish vocal distortion. These two were the most original cuts from the performance, and are hopefully portents of her future recorded sound.

The lighting and set design were expert too, building slowly from classy to flashy. Lorde performed the opener alone on stage, her black dress blending with a matte black curtain behind her. Overhead only a chandelier. The curtain lifted after that, revealing her two-piece band on drums, keys, and programmed beats.

Over the next hour, the set gradually began to explode with a rainbow of strobe lights slightly biased toward blues and purples, and a glorious 3-panel video projection system ensconced in a giant gold picture frame behind the stage. It helped to escalate the performance over time, taking it from intimate to intimidating and back again in a heartbeat.

Let me get cheesy one final time and discuss the audience. The front man for Lo-Fang, the opener, called us “the politest people in America,” and we earned that title. I was surprised to discover that the show was seated, but most people, and especially the vast passels of teenage girls with their parents, were respectful.

It was good to see so many youth amped about a musician that’s actually be worthy of being a role model. At one point, Lorde told the audience, “I noticed you’ve got seats — don’t use them.” Almost no one did.

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