Photo by the Des Moines Register
BY PARKER KLYN
According to Metacritic, the culture review aggregator website, Lorde’s “Melodrama” was the third best-reviewed album of 2017, behind only Kendrick Lamar’s DAMN. and Mount Eerie’s “A Crow Looked At Me.” “Melodrama,” coming a full four years after Lorde’s debut “Pure Heroine,” established Lorde as perhaps the one singer-songwriter to exist fully at the intersection of commercial and critical success.
Yet I remained partially a non-believer. I really enjoyed “Melodrama”; heck, I put it on my top albums of 2017 list. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that Lorde didn’t really have much to set her apart from her pop contemporaries. She didn’t produce her own music, and her sounds, while pleasant, were trendy. I guess I just didn’t understand what made “Melodrama” the “voice of a generation,” as one reviewer put it.
After seeing Lorde perform this Sunday at Wells Fargo Arena, I am no longer a non-believer. In fact, I’m a bona fide Lorde fan, revisiting her past work and seeing “Melodrama” – an album I already enjoyed – in a new light. She was captivating, beautiful, deft and charismatic on stage, without an ounce of cynicism or negative energy. Lorde’s a star.
New York-based singer-songwriter Mitski opened at about 8:00 pm, and it was a bittersweet performance for myself, a casual fan. I was really excited to see her get such a high-profile gig, opening for one of the world’s biggest pop stars, but by the time she entered, many of the concertgoers were still filing in. Nobody knew her music. So while she performed it well and was very cordial on stage, I would’ve preferred a smaller venue for Mitski.
Run The Jewels are the complete opposite. They should be headlining stadiums themselves. The hip-hop duo of Atlantan Killer Mike and New Yorker El-P absolutely accomplished their goal of getting the crowd fired up for the headliner. They performed for about 45 minutes, going through all their biggest hits; the crowd was especially fired up for “Nobody Speak” and “Oh My Darling Don’t Cry.” In between, Mike constantly referred to how cool Des Moines is, and they offered some really wonderful sentiments about self-love and Women’s History month. Run The Jewels nailed their performance, and even though their white-hot ascension from a few years ago has cooled, they still know how to excite a crowd.
Then, at about 9:30 pm, Lorde appeared. She was backed by six supremely talented backup dancers, who focused on elegant and graceful ballet, an interesting touch. The stage was modest; the backing band was barely visible, and the only essential piece of staging was a plexiglass structure that dancers performed in. Lorde danced around, singing a few hits from “Melodrama,” then relaxed into some of her older cuts. This was the one lull in the concert; a four-song stretch from “Magnets” to “Ribs” featured songs that many in attendance barely knew, and the energy of the concert wavered.
Her performance of “The Louvre” brought the crowd back to its original energy. After that song was one of the most powerful moments of the performance: a fully visible costume change. It made sense within the context of Lorde’s song narratives; the first third of the concert was teen party anthems, and she was dressed in a fashionable T-shirt and pants to match. After the costume change, Lorde was clad in a flowing princess dress, complete with globe shoulders, to show that she was transforming into the isolated singer-songwriter that she displays in more private moments.
What followed was the best stretch of the entire concert. Lorde began by explaining what the following song meant to her, and how it’s really a true story. The song was “Writer In The Dark” (for my money, the best song on “Melodrama”). She impressed with her deep contralto in the verses before dazzling with an ascendant, unique soprano falsetto on the chorus.
Then, she upped the emotional ante even further with a faithful cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo” (a personal favorite of mine) and her barest ballad yet, “Liability.” All three of the preceding tracks are some of the best balladry you’ll ever hear, and they were better live than on recording.
After using “Sober II” as an interlude, the crowd was right back to roaring energy with “Supercut,” which should have dominated pop radio but wasn’t even released as a single. Then, she performed “Royals,” the one song everyone in attendance knew; it’s still one of the very best pop songs ever recorded.
But maybe the best pure concert experience I’ve ever been a part of was Lorde’s performance of “Green Light.” After imploring the entire crowd to get up and dance, we did that very thing, and we did it without a care. It was an exhilarating time.
The Melodrama Tour easily matches up with some of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. It’s clear that Lorde loves performing; despite her unassuming demeanor, she can tell when she has a crowd in the palm of her hand. I can’t wait to see her again.