It was a long time coming, but after two years of COVID disruption and two months of nervously watching the skies, Solar Power finally arrived in Tāmaki Makaurau.
“My name is Ella…you might know me as Lorde”.
Indeed we do.
Before we were reintroduced to Devonport’s biggest ever musical export, Auckland’s weather finally showed up to play. The Outer Fields at Western Springs had a distinctly summer festival vibe on Saturday. Despite a sell-out crowd, it never felt cramped. The stage feels low and intimate, more like the second stage of a Big Day Out (which, once upon a time, it was) than the setting for a headline show. Families lounged on the grass, surrounded by trees rather than stadium grandstands, and the queues for food were longer than the one at the bar.
The opening acts, leisurely spaced from 5pm, added to the chilled out feel. Riiki Redi and Faderdaze set the mood, before Marlon Williams and The Yarra Benders played their setup role perfectly. Williams is totally relaxed onstage, performing with a coiled energy which intentionally leaves you wanting more. Although he is without doubt a headline act in his own right, he spoke more about who was coming up next than he did his own music.
And then, after a five-year absence from her home city, backlit in a circle of light to the opening strains of “Leader of a New Regime”, she was there.
For the next ninety-ish minutes, Lorde took her devoted fans on a trip, in every sense of the word. Incredibly, it’s been a full decade since “Royals” redefined what a Kiwi “hit song” meant, and this show covered the three albums and stratospheric personal and professional journey that Lorde has enjoyed – or endured, depending on which lyrics you focus on – since.
The hits are all here, but unusually for a major artist (and that is most definitely what Lorde has become; a diva in an entirely positive sense of the word) her biggest isn’t necessarily the highlight of the gig. “Royals” has always been a difficult song to define, a mix of poetry, mantra and chant that’s hardly danceable, it’s most singalong-able moments only a couple of lines long. It’s still an incredible song, just not one that is going to threaten any venue’s noise level restrictions. The “banger” moments belong to “Green Light”, “Supercut”, “Solar Power” itself, and the eventual closer “Team”
However, it’s the quieter, more intimate moments that hold the most power. Reintroducing Marlon Williams to duet, the Te Reo translation of “Stoned at the Nail Salon/Mata Kohore” is spine tingling. Her introduction and performance of “Liability” shed light on the darker moments of insecurity that must be inevitable for anyone experiencing such success so young. “Mood Ring” plays like a campfire singalong, albeit one where all your friends just happen to have incredible voices.
Lorde’s stage persona has been described as “quirky” – I think “free” is closer to the mark. Rhianna at the Super Bowl, this is not. The choreography, such as it is, is almost Brechtian – she hits her marks for visual impact, locking into recurring silhouettes, static moments and tiny, almost throw-away gestures that punctuate a lyric. But otherwise she does what she feels, and tonight it feels as if she is genuinely excited to be here. She says as much, speaking at length about how this is the show she’s been thinking about during her entire world tour, explaining links between her songs and her city, even direct ties to the exact park we’re standing in.
Her seven-piece band are as much a part of the scenery as they are accompaniment. They add guitars, bass, keyboards, samples, drums and percussion alongside a chorus of superb voices, but remain anonymous, blending into the multi-levelled set in their Talking Heads-inspired oversized, double breasted mustard yellow suits. Overall, the aesthetic is a dream-like, 1970’s-tinged scaffold, as if The Brady Bunch had been directed by David Lynch. This is a production that would not feel out of place in a proscenium arch theatre, or dare I say even a Las Vegas showroom, and yet here, with the moon overhead and the treeline on the periphery, it continues the sense of trippy intimacy.
Most importantly, the staging focuses entirely on the artist. There is absolutely no doubt who the star of the show is here. Whether it’s following her across, up and down the stage, or lighting her from behind, the spotlight is never off Lorde. This is a proud homecoming, a strident statement from an artist at the peak of her powers. Long may the sun shine on her.