It was hard to tell, at Lorde’s first night at Auckland’s Powerstation, who was having more fun — the singer or her audience. After a licensing balls-up that led to her first scheduled show at the club being moved to the Bruce Mason Centre in Takapuna, she was clearly delighted finally to be performing at a venue that meant a lot to her.
And it was quite a performance. I’ll confess right away that I’m not a great fan of Lorde’s music — it’s a little electronic for my tastes — but it’s clear that there is something a little special in what she does. And what she did last night was play an eighteen-song, ninety-minute set that kept her audience delighted. Opening with Homemade Dynamite, from her recent album Melodrama, the set wandered back and forth between that record and Pure Heroine, and her fans, of whom there were many — I’m not sure I’ve ever seen the Powerstation as packed, or an audience there as enthusiastic — sang every word like their lives depended upon it.
And Lorde sang. It is, of course, what she does, that and the flailing, the whirling, the stomping across the stage between verses. And her voice, a singular instrument, is hard to pin down. Outside the studio, with less compression on her vocals, her voice is allowed to, well, sing — it soars and swoops and reveals a range of power and dynamic and emotion that isn’t always obvious in the more clinical setting of a recording. So when she’s allowed to let go, to set her voice free, it becomes a thing of quite remarkable beauty and strength. She is possessed, at barely a week over twenty-one years old, of a supreme confidence that does, occasionally, threaten to topple over into overweening pretentiousness, and she knows how to engage her audience effortlessly.
It was also quite apparent that Lorde herself was wowed by the occasion. “We’re at the fucking Powerstation,” she remarked more than once, the place obviously holding a special place in her heart. She is, of course, a local girl made good, something New Zealanders adore more than anything, and it’s testimony to her talent that she’s yet to be cut down as the tall poppy she could easily be seen as being. Instead, Auckland embraced her last night as she fired through her set. Three costumes, two short video intermissions, two musicians (un-introduced), two dancers who whirled nearly as well as Lorde did, and a couple of illuminated backdrops — it was, unmistakably, a Lorde show, a little eccentric, very energetic, quite superb. Even when she sat down to chat to the audience, the American inflections creeping into her Kiwi vowels, and descended into a thoroughly self-indulgent ramble about, well, loving yourself, that great pre-occupation of the recently-grownup, she kept her crowd enthralled. Even when she started coughing on the smoke filling the stage at the start of, ironically, Melodrama, and had to restart the song, her audience simply cheered and clapped. And when she clicked her fingers and kicked the air in time to the massive, pulsing drumbeats of Royals, the night was undeniably hers. Closing her set with Green Light, suddenly imbued with an urgency and an energy that even the recorded version, itself a strong song, lacked, she made it clear that, indeed, there’s some special talent at work in Lorde.