Lorde @ The Riverstage, Brisbane, 08.03.2023

Lorde @ The Riverstage, Brisbane, 08.03.2023
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You have expectations when you go to a live show. I guess you call them expectations.  If you go and see a band playing a small venue, the band are going to be lined up along the front of the stage, the drummer is going to be at the back, possibly on a small riser.  When you go to a larger show, there’s usually more whistles and bells – ramps, walkways out in the audience, big video screens.  The spectacle relies on scale to wow you, whether it be the physicality of the stage design itself or the number of people included in the performance. It’s all fairly predictable, you know what you’re going to get.

But watching the Solar Power show unfold is like watching a contemporary work of art being performed in real time.  Lorde has form for this, as anyone who saw her Melodrama show will attest. I just can’t remember the last time I stood watching a show stunned by the sheer beauty of it.

There’s the colour palette.  How often have you come away from a live show thinking about the way colour has been used?  The yellow yolk of the translucent fulcrum to the tapered staircase where Lorde starts the show in silhouette with “Leader of a New Regime” that perfectly complements the grey mink tones of the eclipse on the stage’s backdrop as well as her outfit.  ‘Buzzcut Season’ is all about the purple tones. “Fallen Fruit” is a combination of reds and black shadows, the effect enhanced by the infinity mirror effects on the backdrop.  When Lorde changes into a yellow dress it’s balanced out with the use of strong blues in the lighting and on the video screen.  For the encores, a change into black is paired with dominant red lighting.  The people putting the design of this show together have probably been taking notes from the likes of David Byrnes’s American Utopia show and maybe Powell and Pressburger’s “A Matter of Life and Death” but they’ve also been intensely studying the works of James Turrell and Ólafur Elíasson in their stage designs.

There’s the stage set itself, dominated by a rotating sundial that doubles up as a staircase, with a fulcrum that doubles up as a seat to perform from during “Stoned at the Nail Salon” and then as a mid-song changing room during “Secrets from a Girl”. There’s a double staircase, there’s a backdrop for video projections.  In fitting with everything else, it’s a minimal set design but one that works so beautifully for staging the performance.

There’s the band. Is choreography the right word to use? If it is, it’s minimal and there’s almost no dance element.  It’s more about the changing positioning of the players in the landscape of the stage from song-to-song.  During “Buzzcut Season”, the second song of the set, the players are positioned on the steps on the left hand side of the stage, only moving when they turn their heads to face the audience when contributing the backing harmonies.  For “The Path, they sit in a line on the stairway behind Lorde.  “Fallen Fruit” finds them statuesque, perfectly positioned and evenly distributed in a line across the back of the stage. For “Green Light” they guitarists are pulling all their best rock moves huddled in small circle behind the drummer. Considering how static so much of the band’s performance is, the use of space is exemplary. How the players interact with the stage has been beautifully thought out.

Then there’s Lorde. 

Lorde has two great strengths.  The first is her voice.  I hadn’t thought about it until “Sun King” was used as the introductory song but it’s obvious the influence that Abbey Road (the album) took on Solar Power (the album). For all the commentary on “Solar Power” (the song) that mentioned “Sympathy for the Devil” and Screamadelica-era Primal Scream, this is her most Beatles-inspired record, with its subtle psychedelic flourishes and Abbey Road medley harmonies. These are to the fore in songs like “Fallen Fruit” and “Mood Ring”, but also evident, however briefly, in so many of the other eight songs from the Solar Power album that are included in tonight’s setlist.

I’m so pre-occupied with the staging and the physical performance that takes me until “California”, the seventh song of the set to suddenly realise just how good the sound is.  Has anyone ever sounded this good at the Riverstage? It’s so good I’m not sure if it’s too good. Some of the players are mic-ed up but at times the harmonies sound so strong, and are so lush that you can’t but question whether everything is being sung live.  If it is, it’s a pretty astonishing feat.

Lorde’s other great strength is being able to write about growing up in a way that resonates with people who had those life experiences a long time ago.  Pure Heroine and Melodrama were about teenage life, being young and alive, the excitement, the possibilities. Solar Power is a more grown up album, one about the sudden and surprising acceleration of time and disappointment of adulthood, that it’s not everything you were led to believe. Does it quality as a quarter-life crisis album? Lorde talks about this a lot during the show, about all the changes in the years since Melodrama, about being an age when you look at your parents and thinking that adults that got everything figured out but realising as you age that this isn’t how life is, about how you never arrive at your younger expectations of where you think you end up.

As she did in her Melodrama show all the way back in 2017, she has a way of talking to the audience about her everyday and normal life experiences with confidence and assurance, in a manner that has humility and a genuine human touch, that’s not condescending to anyone in the crowd who’s younger than her but also relatable to everyone there who’s older than her and already lived through these experiences.  The same stories might get used night-after-night but there’s a heartfeltness to her words that never makes them feel rehearsed and always make them feel as if they are of the moment.

If there is a minor criticism, it’s that sometimes the monologues introducing the songs feel as if they’re too long, longer than the actual song about to be played.  This makes some sections of the evening more like a musical; talking interspersed with the occasional song. It is a disgustingly humid Wednesday night in Brisbane so it’s understandable if this is to give everyone a quick breather and there is a crowd issue at the front at one point which slows things down for a bit.  It might just be my Riverstage curfew anxiety kicking in, as more than one act has had to cut songs from their set to meet the venue’s strict end time.

There’s also the two song encore of “Royals” and “Team”. During the last song of the main set, ‘Oceanic Feeling’, the band the stage one-by-one but for the encores Lorde is only joined by a couple of them for her two oldest hits. Given everything that has passed over the rest of the evening, and how much the band were an intrinsic part of the whole show, it feels slightly regressive. They might have been better being casually dropped into the main set, with everyone on stage for the night’s finale.  It’s not like she needs to hold these two songs back to keep everyone interested and engaged in the show.

Once again Lorde is challenging the expectations of what a live show should look like. The level of care and attention to detail throughout is so impressive. Everything is beautiful. The Solar Power tour is nothing less than a work of art.

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