12:37 AM CDT, March 19, 2014
Surrounded by electric candles Tuesday at the sold-out Aragon, 17-year-old Lorde described a “rite of passage” with her sister and best friend a year ago, and confessed that it terrified her to feel like she was taking an irrevocable step into adulthood.
“Can you go back to being a kid?” she asked. “Where does it stop? It’s something that keeps me up all the time.”
But she got a song out of it. “It’s my way of dealing with this … I get to speak to you, and you listen, and I couldn’t be more thankful.”
It was a story told with hand-in-pocket sincerity by a singer who could’ve easily found herself in over her head playing to an audience of 4,500 that included Mayor Rahm Emanuel. That she delivered on a big stage owed plenty to a show that kept things small and intimate rather than blustery and booming.
Born Ella Yelich-O’Connor in New Zealand, Lorde is coming off two Grammy Awards and a million-selling debut album, “Pure Heroine,” that produced a worldwide hit, “Royals.” Her rapid ascent as not only a pop hitmaker but a social media icon has enabled her to leapfrog the clubs and go straight to sold-out theaters on her first North American tour.
Dressed with understated class in black and white, the singer comes across as a bookish sommelier at a high-end restaurant. She’s a young woman with a tornado of curls cascading past her shoulders, 10-dollar words and a sure sense of where she fits – which, until recently, was nowhere. She speaks for the smart, skeptical and awkward trapped between adolescence and adulthood in her songs.
“I'm kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air,” she sighed in “Team,” which arrived during what is normally the celebratory portion of the set. Her narrators own their misfit status, but are also self-aware enough to realize that some of it is a protective pose. In “Tennis Court,” she sang, “It's a new art form showing people how little we care.”
The contradictions abound, and become part of the appeal. The bling culture gets a swift kick to the curb, but even as “Royals” decries those who define themselves by their acquisitions, it name-checks some of the very same brands that more avid consumers covet. It’s a canny pop construct: layered and catchy as it is disingenuous.
The lighting was stark, the presentation stripped down, with a drummer and keyboardist augmented by backing tracks. Lorde hunched over at the waist and flailed her arms as if fighting out of an unseen straitjacket. Her voice favors a deep, pliant, conversational tone rather than showy diva gestures, though on “Bravado” she floated effortlessly into a higher register. The music suggested the influence of hip-hop as much as pop, with its rumbling bass tones, clipped drums, and a drizzle of keyboards.
She covered the Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party,” a classic outsider anthem played low-key, and a portion of Kanye West’s caustic “Hold My Liquor,” the one moment in the show where her frustration with The Way Things Are boiled over.
When she finished, she staked her future on one sure thing: “Maybe the Internet raised us, or maybe people are jerks/But not you.” It was Lorde and her new friends at the Aragon against the world.
Lorde set list Tuesday at the Aragon
1 Glory and Gore
2 Biting Down
3 Tennis Court
4 White Teeth Teens
5 Buzzcut Season
6 Swingin’ Party (Replacements cover)
7 Still Sane
8 400 Lux
14 A World Alone
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