‘That’s Melodrama’: Lorde plays exclusive show on Sydney’s Cockatoo Island

Singer takes the stage in a sparkling playsuit, throwing off the dark intensity of her last tour. This time, shes dancing with us

The last time Lorde toured a solo show it was 2014. Then 18, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-OConnor already a few years into her career was touring her debut album Pure Heroine, and its breakout track Royals. She had disarmed critics with a voice, lyrics, stage presence and songcraft a decade older than they thought they should be. She had sold 5m records and performed at the Grammys. David Bowie said her music was like listening to tomorrow.

And then, in February 2014, the first time I saw her live, she was headlining Laneway festival in Sydney. Draped in a heavy, long black dress and her own huge hair, with big black boots that belied the 30C-plus day, she performed with a languid, twitchy, strange self-possession that dared you to look away.

Its a very different Lorde who we meet tonight, sauntering on to the stage in a sparkling silver playsuit. She has been flown in for a quick stop in the middle of a European festival tour, where shes debuting material from her second album, Melodrama. And as she launches into Homemade Dynamite a poppy, exuberant ode to hedonism its immediately clear she is throwing to the side the dark intensity of her 2014 tour. This time, shes dancing with us.

One of her first non-festival shows in almost three years, Lordes exclusive performance on Thursday night in Sydney is brought to us by a commercial radio station and a telecommunications brand so, a very different night to the ones we can expect from the full album tour. But the drama of the venue lends the night legitimacy: Cockatoo Islands cavernous turbine hall a cathedral-sized space of exposed steel and peaked ceilings, which is only accessible by boat is a major venue for the internationally renowned Biennale of Sydney.

Lorde may be a bona fide pop star now a friend of Taylor Swift, with a radio-ready new record, a Disclosure track and major brand appeal but she still has art credentials. Down the back, but who cares? Still the Louvre.

If you want to, you can find Swifts influence in the new stage show but the who-cares confidence, rough edges and all, belongs only to Lorde. She bops, jumps and twists through the choruses of Homemade Dynamite, Magnets and Ribs, flexing her finger tips with the bass drum and throwing her hair, hips and elbows across the stage. And when she drops down the energy for a moment of intensity, her eyes and lyrics bore right into you.

Theres a new confidence and lightness on stage with her. Photograph: Bossy Music
Of course, the production of a branded show doesnt do her justice. The three-piece band are outweighed by the backing track, the lighting is compromised by the logo-packed backdrop, and the microphone doesnt gel well with Lordes movement across it. But she remains mesmerising, building the energy in the room and then feeding off it as she launches into Sober: one of the best tracks from her new record and a highlight of the show.

Theres a new confidence and lightness on stage with her, as she dances through Perfect Places and Supercut. Im kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air / So there she sings on Team, but the line is layered in irony when its performed among songs that were written for festivals: do we pull them down, or throw them higher?

She sits on the edge of the stage to introduce Liability with a slightly cheesy, over-earnest speech: Its all of the most intense moments of your adult life. Its the saddest that youve ever been, or the happiest youve ever been. Or its feeling as lonely as you can possibly imagine, sitting in your living room touching your own cheek just to feel like someones there, she says, and I remember how many of her fans would be younger than her. Thats Melodrama.

This conversion to cabaret doesnt quite land but if her album taught us anything about Lorde its that shes still working out who she is, as she watches from above and that she is nothing if not full of contradictions. American vowel sounds jar with the New Zealand ones; the lightness of her songs bounces off darker themes; and the shiny production is deepened by the rawness and realness of her voice.

She follows Liability up with the smash hit Royals, before Supercut, Perfect Places, Team and then, finally, Green Light: the albums highlight, an anthem of break-ups and new beginnings, and the song of a summer Sydney is waiting for. Played live, its exactly as undeniable as it should be.

Lorde seems genuinely happy to be on this side of the equator, recognising faces among the crowd. I have been overseas for seven weeks and in Europe for three, playing in front of a different European crowd every night. And its been fun, she says. But its not quite the antipodes or anything. Its not weird little New Zealand and Australia.

FUSH AND CHUPS! a man behind me screams, for the 17th time that evening.

Thank you, she says, diplomatically.

The final image we have of Lorde comes at the encore. She stands alone in the middle of the stage with the microphone and nothing else, for an a capella performance of Writer in the Dark. It is entirely overwrought but beautiful because of it and her voice, stripped back, is captivating.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/music/2017/jul/07/thats-melodrama-lorde-plays-exclusive-show-on-sydneys-cockatoo-island

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