Strangely, it takes a ballad to make this set truly fire
Arrive four minutes from the end of Lorde’s final night appearance at Primavera Sound and you’d think you’ve just missed a spectacular pop show. The New Zealander is playing ‘Green Light’ and canons shoot confetti high into the night sky as 20,000 people, who’ll shortly get restless watching Arctic Monkeys play their old stuff kind of in the style of their new stuff, collectively lose their minds.
But that’s not the story of Lorde’s debut at the Barcelona festival at all. It’s almost 12 months on now from the Glastonbury performance – complete with a transparent hydraulic box – that ushered in her second album ‘Melodrama’. That show was exceptional: Lorde mixing high-concept theatrics with genuine personality.
This, then, is the slightly scaled-down show she’s been touring since, transplanted into the festival environment. Made up of Lorde, two synth players and a drummer, who she doesn’t really acknowledge, a big screen used infrequently and six backing dancers. And, honestly, the first half an hour isn’t great. After Kate Bush is piped through the PA she arrives on a stage flooded in blue light. ‘Sober’ and ‘Homemade Dynamite’, suffering from a less-than-pumping volume, struggle to establish any kind of momentum. “For the next hour and a half, you’re in my house,” she says before playing ‘Tennis Courts’, “and in my house we dance.” Some people dance.
The struggle continues. Her backing dancers pick her up during ‘The Louvre’ as she lies flat raised up in their arms. It’s cheesy and she looks uncomfortable as if she’d quite like to get down. She even covers a bit of Frank Ocean’s ‘Lost’.
Then, roughly half-way through, comes the turning point. The dancers take a break, the screen turns dark and she sits, in spotlight, on the edge of the stage. If the introduction to ‘Liability’ feels scripted and robotic (we’ve heard this story at this point of the show before, about when she wrote the song at home: “if you’re trying to fit in with someone – fuck ‘em. If you need someone to hang out with, call me”) then the performance feels anything but. It’s unexpected that it takes one of her mellower songs to truly grip the audience’s attention and kick-start the set.
From there on, it’s transformed. ‘Melodrama’, ‘Supercut’, ‘Royals’ and ‘Perfect Places’ suddenly feel more energetic and louder. She clambers off the stage and runs down the corridor separately the crowd during ‘Team’, high-fiving people as she goes. And finally, with a call to turn the house lights up and bath the place in white illumination, it’s ‘Green Light’ and a scene of collective pandemonium.
So it’s a set that feels caught between two choices. It’s neither a fully formed pop show – but has elements of one – nor a totally dynamic performance that can instinctively respond to the atmosphere, mood or occasion (there really is zero adaptation for this being an older festival crowd over her own arena shows, full of a young fanbase who welcome being assured “you’re perfect the way that you are”). Find the sweet spot between the two and Lorde would be entirely potent on any night – as it stands, you can’t help but feel that with her songs, her vocal talent and her decidedly unmanufactured and awkward charm, the tired pop clichés of interpretive dancers and motivational speeches don’t do Lorde’s undoubtable originality justice.
Photos: Primavera Sound / Eric Pamies
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