Even before Lorde's show begins, extraordinary things are occurring. Normally, photographers shoot from the pit in front of the stage - the first three songs, before the performer gets too flushed and bug-eyed. This ritual is rarely questioned. Tonight, at this most un-run-of-the-mill Lorde gig, there are no snappers in the pit. They have been relocated to the balcony.
You could read Lorde's exiling of the photographers at her second-ever
Another reading is more intriguing. The still teenage Lorde - possessor of Grammies, a Brit, and a seriously successful debut album - is flexing her developing muscle, doing pop performance her way. She wants to be closer to the front row, reckons her PR, without a lens up her nostril. She has the clout to make this happen.
Her entrance, when it comes, is almost the opposite of an entrance. Wearing a loose tuxedo and channelling ringmaster, magician and groom, Lorde just strides on suddenly to sing Glory and Gore, an album track. Funereal chords accompany her, as do disembodied backing vocals. Most successful pop stars might have hired in flesh-and-blood backing vocalists by now. Not Lorde, who appears perfectly at ease in the digital realm. Indeed, tonight's gig sometimes has the atmosphere of a rave in an art gallery.
The lighting around her is as stark and dramatic as her voice. Side-lit by strobes, Lorde twitches, the sort of invisible bee-swatting last seen being busted out by
A curtain soon falls to reveal some picture frames, ruched velvet, and Lorde's live drummer and keyboard player, whose long hair has grown considerably since the trio last played at Madame JoJo's in Soho nine months ago. A lot more has changed since the world first heard Royals, Lorde's anthem about how suburban teenagers see the pop life as preposterously unattainable, in late 2012. There have been umpteen deconstructions of how female pop stars should be, pitting the clever, buttoned-up gothic Lorde against motormouth exhibitionist
This pair of
She plays the album, but in a way that refreshes it, toning up the strangeness while still providing spectacle and singalongs. The electronics seem even more bold, the arrangements even more sparse, her vocals, more gospelly on the chanted songs (Biting Down), the spaces between the notes, greater. The other tracks Lorde is famous for - Tennis Court and White Teeth Teens - come as rushes of pleasure in quick succession. Tonight's choice of cover is the
Even better than those is the least familiar track tonight, Easy - a track by
One could argue there is a sameyness to Lorde's set, a coupling of her soulful husk with churchy R&B moods. Mixing it up is not what she does. For some reason, she runs off stage and comes back for the encore wearing a billowing golden gown, redolent of
'Nothing like a conventional pop singer show': Lorde at Shepherd's Bush Empire. Neil Lupin/Redferns
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