Since she first floated into our collective consciousness, Lorde reminded me of that one cheerleader in high school who made the squad not because she was pretty (though she might also have been that) or popular, but because she could actually tumble. She was just so good at the school-wide tryouts that she had to make it.
Of course, the 17-year-old singer from New Zealand is no cheerleader, nor is she any sort of regular high schooler, despite a number of songs that recall highly specific teenage moments. She is, arguably, huge. Her first full United States tour is a sell out, and her second concert on the road, at South Side Ballroom, was wall-to-wall people with cell phones held high, desperate to capture the slight figure on stage. I’m short, so I actually watched a decent amount of the show this way—through the mini-screens of various tall dudes in front of me, recording the moment for posterity amid a lighting design that mirrored the orange-red and purple streaks of sunset. Lorde herself was difficult to see, so thank goodness for the large projections at the back of the stage.
She looked like the inverse of a Greek goddess, all heavy shrouds of curly dark hair and black clothing, playing for the mortals below. She was also nearly solitary on stage, backed only by a couple band members and what sounded like recorded vocal tracks, allowing her live set to closely mimic the thumping, layered sound of her first—and only—full-length album. I was wedged between a girl with the giant Ziploc baggie of weed and the new friend she made thanks to that baggie, and they both agreed that it was the best live show they’d ever seen because Lorde sounded, to them, exactly the same as she does on her record.
She does have those pipes, and while some songs offered a little bit of a different arrangement, I think that’s partly where the curious separation for me comes from. Her stage banter is nonexistent, mostly limited to a mumbled “How you doing?” but every word elicited incredible, roof-lifting screams. Still, when she launched into “400 Lux,” a song about hometown malaise and the curious freedom that comes from aimless driving with the right person behind the wheel, I felt something, if only because the song reminded me of something from my own past. Such is her appeal, as evidenced by Lorde’s ability to command fans of all ages. They were all there last night.
When the confetti cannons went off during “Team,” it was a delirious bit of theater, a nod of youthful celebration during a show that was adult, professional, and mature—almost too much so for my taste, since I enjoy the spontaneity (or at least, the ability to sell the perception of it) of live performance. She criticized Taylor Swift for presenting a sort of unattainable flawlessness (before befriending her), but Lorde’s perfectionism—her set was flawlessly controlled, including a bit where she introduced a song by talking about it being one of the first she ever wrote—manifests in exhaustively rehearsed messiness. I appreciate that, too, that her talent is hard work, and a work in progress. The crowd was there for the voice that wrote Pure Heroine, and Lorde delivered every line. When it was over, the lights came up and the high dissipated. There’s no encore—not this tour, not yet.