I saw over one-hundred different artist perform live in 2018 and there was one performance I couldn't shake. It left me transformed along with questions I am still seeking answers to. Back in March, Lorde's Melodrama World Tour overwhelmed me, because it exhibited a power to change lives. Maybe that's hyperbole, but I would be lying if I didn't feel something come over me while I watched the young woman born as Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O'Connor share something deep with 12,000 fans. The New Zealand artist came to our attention in 2013 with her stunning debut album Pure Heroine featuring the singles "Royals" and "Team". Despite her youth, there was something singular and distinctive about her music. After a world tour from 2013-15, she worked on The Hunger Games: Mockingjay - Part 1 soundtrack and in that time, she kept a low profile until the release of Melodrama in 2017. However, there was one performance she made that astonished, moved and shook me. She performed David Bowie's "Life on Mars" with his band at the 2016 Brit Awards. Bowie tributes were flowing from everywhere and yet her thoughtful and emotive take, done with his final touring band, nearly moved me to tears. I sat there and was in awe that such a young person could embody the spirit of David Bowie. Despite having seen her at Lollapalooza in 2014 command one of the largest crowds of the festival, this was the moment where I knew she had that undefinable "it" factor.
When Melodrama was released in June of 2017, it left those who heard it in awe, including me. Melodrama isn't just one of the best albums of 2017 or this decade, but this century. Her Grammy nomination for Album of the Year was warranted and as years pass, I have no doubt it will be heralded as a pop masterpiece for its meticulous musical arrangements and compelling tales of sorrow inspired by a real-life breakup. The heartache is eternalized in the eleven songs on the album along with the confusion and anger that is birthed from painful experiences. You begin to realize that the anguish is a chapter in your story to learn from but one that doesn't define who you are but helps mold you as you enter your next stage in life.
The tour in support of Melodrama was one of the most emotional wrenching shows I've ever experienced. During the show opener, "Sober", it was nearly two minutes before she made her presence known as dancers performed amongst a cloudy shade of blue. She followed in quick succession with "Homemade Dynamite" on the mostly bare stage dressed all in white as she asked the crowd, "Are you going to dance Chicago?" Dance we did but there was something more weighty happening. The show was dreamlike. It wasn't an event to see a star, but a communal assembly to work through our issues together. Those who have bathed in the sounds and stories of Melodrama were all gathered together to share in something larger than ourselves.
The band, who were tucked away at the back of the stage, performed the music with sophisticated restraint that never overpowered the songs but allowed the audience to take in each and every lyric. The crowd flexed their devotion on "Tennis Court" and "Ribs" from her debut where the voices almost drowned out the band with the latter showcasing an utterly joyous dance that is a celebration of love and life. Changing outfits in the glass box, Lorde reemerged in a new skirt and dark outfit before coming out and performing "The Louvre" to an rapturous crowd who let their love flow over into "Hard Feelings", a song about "your final moments with someone". The force of the music is only matched by our own memory banks as we think back to loves, lusts and crushes that never materialized. Memories linger and flow through our veins and they embed themselves into our DNA. These moments in life are building blocks for us, something Lorde understands, and instead of being embarrassed about sharing her ache and struggles with relationships, she artfully leaves them on the table for everyone to revel in one of the most emotionally ambitious concert tours I've seen. Could you imagine taking a semester off from college to work through heartache every night in front of a crowd? We do not give artists enough credit for laying it on the line and exposing themselves to the world to pick apart.
As the glass box descended, Lorde sat on top of it and shared stories before a pair of piano driven ballads, "Writer in the Dark" and "Liability". The crowd relished each and every word, where they sung back the chorus to her at every opportunity. As I looked around at the crowd it became evident that this isn't about a tour or even a show but a living breathing confessional. In my youth, I bowed at the altar for what I like to refer to as "bedroom albums", where I would sit alone in the dark seeking answers in the lyrics and notes that escape from the speakers. What differentiates Lorde from the hundreds of other artists touring is she's one of us. Her talent reaches far and wide but her vulnerability onstage and on record is brave, bold and what makes music so overpoweringly beautiful. The fans sitting by me knew every word like it was scripture or a hymn chiseled in their memory banks. It's simultaneously weird and wonderful to watch a young woman come into her own, weave affecting tales while capturing the imaginations of millions.
After the quiet and affecting mid-section, Lorde geared up for a high octane and celebratory rush to the finish line. Concluding the show in a green running suit she and the audience were one. The aching but upbeat "Supercut", followed by her first hit "Royals" featuring some hypnotic dancing on stage, "Perfect Places" where we all search for happiness and contentment to the expressive tsunami that was "Green Light". The last part of the main set featured a symbiotic bonding with the audience as the arena floor shook like an earthquake during "Green Light". Melodrama is the sound of an awakening and a towering peek into a torn, wounded and heartbroken soul. The electronic flairs touched up with the most tranquil pop melodies on this break-up album are something to behold. We're living in a world that is being shaken to its core by change, good and bad, but it feels like we are on the cusp of something extraordinary and musically Lorde is leading us. This was more than a concert, but a rather communion of broken hearts. What I loved most about the concert was it didn't feel like any of the music was in the past tense. It's as if every note wrung from her body was in the here and now.
Lorde is an old soul tearing through convention for a thoughtful, artistic and stunning performance. It's hard to encompass what a colossal artistic achievement Melodrama is and how impeccably it plays out over the concert stage. Lorde captures the confusion and chaos of youth better than anyone has in decades. She is someone who has wailed at the onset of heartache, someone who has felt lost and aimless, someone who has danced the night away if for no other reason than to escape the pain and someone who has learned to bounce back.
I am breaking a cardinal rule of music journalism by writing in the first person, but when it comes to Lorde's music and this concert, there's no other way. The experience is meant to be deeply personal. I was blessed to take my nine-year-old daughter with me to the show. Earlier in the day we had gone to the Art Institute of Chicago to revel in paintings, sculptures and exhibits and we talked about the power of art and the importance of confronting conformity. That evening we watched Lorde do just that as she helped us all make better sense of who were are and where we are going. My daughter couldn't comprehend all of what was on display, but she acknowledges the power and passion flowing off the stage. She already finds meaning in books, film and music for answers. I can't shield her from the sadness she will experience in life, but I can try and guide her where to look for answers. Melodrama is one of the places I will send her as she waits for that green light in her life to a brighter and better tomorrow.
Anthony Kuzminski is a Chicago based writer and Special Features Editor for the antiMUSIC Network. His daily writings can be read at The Screen Door. He can be contacted at tonyk AT antiMUSIC DOT com and can be followed on Twitter
Tony K's The Best Concert of 2018: Lorde
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