Adelaide Festival review: Lorde

Kiwi pop star Lorde made a long-awaited return to Adelaide, performing to a vocal audience including many fans who seemed to have grown up with her.

Mar 17, 2023, updated Mar 17, 2023
Lorde is touring Australia for the first time in a number of years. Photo: Ashley Mar / Supplied

Lorde is touring Australia for the first time in a number of years. Photo: Ashley Mar / Supplied

It’s been nearly a decade since Ella Yelich-O’Connor last came to town, headlining Laneway on a day so hot that UK band CHVRCHES’ synthesisers fried in the Port Adelaide sun. She was a teenage sensation then, riding the coat-tails of a monster hit, “Royals”, with a brooding electronic sound and age-appropriate goth flourish.

A lot can happen in nine years ­– especially if half of them are teenage ones. At the tail end of her Australian tour, Lorde appears at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre as a platinum blonde, sun-worshipping 26-year-old, standing confidently atop a rotating cantilevered staircase.

Posed in silhouette in a boxy silk suit, she resembles a cross between the conductor from Disney’s Fantasia and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne. She moves like it, too, shimmying and grimacing across this elaborate, pastel-washed and vaguely new-agey set up that seems a monument to her new, elevated state.

The first few songs, from across her three albums, underscore Lorde’s influence in the intervening years, both on the generation of teen pop stars that came after her and the crowd in front of her.

Perhaps the numbers aren’t as big as the likes of Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran, but the big feelings Lorde inspires in her audience seem as potent as anything being dished up in stadiums around the world. As if through muscle memory, they yell her lyrics back at her – or into the face of the friend they came with. For many, this clearly isn’t the first night they’ve spent singing along, alone or with friends, to cuts like “The Louvre”, “Sober”, or “Supercut”.

“I wrote this song when I was 15 – I’m 26 now, Adelaide,” she says, before launching into “Ribs” from her 2013 debut, Pure Heroine. “That means you and I have been dancing to this for 10 years. Should we dance for our 15-year-old selves tonight?”

The crowd obliges, screaming along to the half-rapped lyrics “it feels so scary getting old” – the heightened insecurities of adolescence now served with a whack of mid-20s existential crisis.

Lorde’s third LP, Solar Power, received a mixed response on arrival in 2021. Some found its production too tepid, its sunny, Jack Johnson-adjacent guitars an odd sequel to the sublime melodrama of her first albums. It makes more sense here; the live drums and guitars add a welcome looseness and loudness, while the audience – having had 18 months to memorise songs like “Stoned at the Nail Salon”, “Mood Ring” and “Fallen Fruit” – add a feeling of ascension sometimes absent on record.

The seven band members dot the moving set in mustard suits, wordlessly maintaining a new pose for each song before reconfiguring for the next. They add welcome life to the sound, but little energy to the stage presence; Lorde doesn’t introduce them or exchange more than a word – they’re just another set of props in her tastefully curated dreamscape.

Clearly, the most important relationship is Lorde and her audience, and from the heartbroken headrush of “Green Light” to the pensive “Oceanic Feeling”, they have each other’s full attention. It complements another thread from Solar Power – a self-effacing image of Lorde as a kind of reluctant cult leader, a “prettier Jesus” escaping a broken world wracked by OxyContin and consumerism, where “lust and paranoia reign supreme”.

Sung by Lorde and her flock, lyrics like “we are all broken and sad / can’t find the dreams that we had” on “The Path” seem a grim bookend to the cool defiance of those earlier tracks, but at least Pastor Ella has the antidote, if just for this one moment: “In these fucked-up times that we live in, to seize a moment of sensual pleasure is the very best thing you can do for yourself,” she says, before launching into Solar Power’s title track.

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She welcomes support band, American pop trio MUNA, back for the encore, stripping away the glossy ’80s pop of their set for an acoustic number that seems to affect Lorde much like her own music has gone down all night.

By the time she plays “Royals”, for the second time in Adelaide, it almost feels like an afterthought. Neither Lorde or her audience need that once-ubiquitous hit – they’ve been through so much together since, all on each other’s team.

Lorde performed at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre Arena for one night only as part of the Adelaide Festival program.

Read more Adelaide Festival coverage here on InReview.

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