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Review: Lorde at Radio City Music Hall

Lorde brings her Solar Power tour to NYC with guest Remi Wolf

Review: Lorde at Radio City Music Hall The first thing I feel when walking into Radio City Music Hall for last night's Lorde show is old. To quote Goldie Hawn's Elise Elliot in The First Wives Club, "I'm Monique's mother." I'm surrounded by energetic twenty-somethings, and they are all rocking a look. I see one girl with a short blonde bob wearing a tube top and mini skirt. No tights. Doesn't she know it's forty degrees out? She'll catch her death! I see a young gay man who's holding court while wearing a full, white wedding dress, surrounded by what appears to be the cast of HBO's Euphoria. I zip my padded parka up to my chin, head for the bar, and order a $15 beer.

We've arrived early, so my friend and I decide to drink our beers while we wait in the mile-long merch line. I'm a sucker for merch, and I've already eyed a Solar Power tour t-shirt that belongs in my collection. As we slowly inch up the staircase, the Stella Artois starts to kick in, and so does the thrill of being at a show at one of my favorite venues in the world. I start to feel less old and more excited. I hear a man next to me gushing to his girlfriend about how incredible it was seeing Aretha Franklin at Radio City several years ago. There's an energy to this legendary space that feels unique and spiritual. I think of April, the flight attendant in Company: "I decided where I really wanted to live more than any other place was Radio City. I thought it was a wonderful little city near New York."

After I purchase the very last available medium t-shirt from the merch stand (they actually have remove it from the plastic shirt form display to sell it to me), we find our seats and prepare to be taken to church.

Opening for Lorde is Remi Wolf, a twenty-six-year-old singer from Palo Alto. I've never heard of her, but I am transfixed within minutes. With clever lyrics and a funky, fresh, wholly original pop sound, the best way I can describe this powerhouse performer is Janis Joplin in technicolor, mixed with a bit of Talking Heads and a dash of 1970s Bette Midler. Each song is hook-filled to the brim, producing a juicy, saturated aural experience the likes of which will soon be gracing my trio of Spotify summertime playlists. I can only imagine the thrill of being on the beach as Wolf's perfect gem of a song, "Disco Man," shuffles its way onto my portable speaker.

After Wolf's set is over and I've made a trip to what may just be the grandest and most beautiful public restroom in all of New York City, the lights go down and the thunderous, deafening flood of applause that bursts from the crowd is rivaled only by the speed with which everyone leaps to their feet. (I let out a groan as I slowly rise with the group, knees a-crackin'.) But any qualm I feel at having to stand for the next two hours is immediately quashed by the sound and vision of what is happening on stage. The lights come up and Lorde is presented in stark silhouette behind a circular, translucent screen--part of a minimal, surrealist sundial set that appears to have been designed by Salvador Dalí. It is also uncannily similar to Tom Pye's designs for Akhnaten at The Metropolitan Opera.

As the sounds of "Leader of a New Regime" drift from the stage, people around me start swaying and lifting their hands. This feels like a revival, with Lorde offering her music as a sacramental call to arms: "Won't somebody, anybody, be the leader of the new regime?/Free the keepers of the burnt out scene another day." Lorde has extensively explored these kinds of new-age motifs on her latest album, Solar Power, and her live show has obviously been designed with them in mind. Each musician remains stock-still onstage, as if in a trance, aside from the physicality required to play their respective instruments, while all wearing what appear to be zoot suits from the Kanye West collection. The result is a beautiful, culty tableau.

The next song is "Homemade Dynamite," from 2017's Melodrama, followed by "Buzzcut Season," from the debut album Pure Heroine. Then, after greeting the audience in her charming New Zealand accent, Lorde asks, "Are you ready to cry?," which produces quite possibly the loudest collective cheer of the night so far. Yes, Lorde! We are ready to cry!

At this point I've only had a couple of sips of my second Stella, but I've imbibed more than a few guzzles of the Lorde Kool-Aid, and I am feeling it. So, when the soft opening lines of "Stoned at the Nail Salon" begin, I lose my mind a little bit. This is a song I love, and listened to over and over again last summer while taking my morning walks throughout the Pines in Fire Island. "Well my blood's been burning for so many summers now/It's time to cool it down, wherever that leads," is a sentiment that especially spoke to me during those walks when I was more than a bit hung over. Lorde's always been preoccupied with notions of aging and time passing, but this is her at her most ruminative. With lines like "All the beautiful girls, they will fade like the roses," twenty-five-year-old Lorde is aware of not only her own mortality, but also of the fact that she hit it big at such a young age, and still has a lifetime ahead of her. (At seventeen, she became the youngest artist to win Song of the Year and Best Pop Solo Performance at the Grammys.)

Joni Mitchell is another artist who made a name for herself early on while writing with a wisdom beyond her years, and near the end of "Stoned at the Nail Salon," I'm reminded of one of Joni's early songs, "The Circle Game." As Lorde sings, "I'd ride this carousel round and round forever if I could," I think of Joni's words: "We're captive on the carousel of time/We can't return, we can only look/Behind from where we came." At twenty-seven, Joni Mitchell's honest and confessional folk songs taught a generation of listeners how to feel, but as time went on, Joni's creativity only expanded, and she began to explore different realms both stylistically and thematically. With her old soul insight and ability to craft a lyric, I am hopeful that Lorde's career has the potential for a similar longevity.

Next up is "Fallen Fruit," "The Path," and "California," all from Solar Power. Then, after a dramatic rotation of the giant onstage sundial, Lorde introduces the next song "Ribs" by saying that she wrote it when she was fifteen, a fact which becomes even more annoying when you hear the lyrics of the song: "I've never felt more alone/It feels so scary getting old."

Next is "The Louvre," a great song from Melodrama that Lorde reveals "was written going back and forth over the Brooklyn Bridge" when she was "sticky, sweaty, nervous in love." This is followed by "Big Star," another song about white-hot infatuation, and then a cover of The Strokes' "The End Has No End," which receives only a smattering of polite applause.

This lukewarm audience reception is quickly cranked to boiling, however, when the music for the next number begins. It's mayyybe my favorite Lorde song, "Liability," and she intros it with the observation that "You don't meet this mythical group of people who make everything better...shitty things still happen." This is one of the greatest pop ballads of the last ten years, and perfectly exemplifies Lorde's brilliance at writing songs that are equally hummable and poetic.

After the next song, "Secrets from a Girl Who's Seen It All," it's time for another silhouette moment behind the sundial, only this time, we watch as Lorde's shadow removes her dress and dons another outfit, one which appears to closely resemble, as my friend puts it, "a flying squirrel." When she steps out, we see a gorgeous new costume that looks like a hand-me-down from the Bob Mackie section of Cher's closet. In fact, if I squint, Lorde could almost resemble the Goddess of Pop.

"Mood Ring" follows this outfit switch, and upon hearing the lyrics "Can't feel a thing/Keep looking at my mood ring," I think not of the color-changing thermochromic stone, but of music itself, which has the ability to reflect our feelings back to us during times when we're unsure of how to express them. And as I listen to the thousands of surrounding voices singing along to "Mood Ring," I realize that for many people, Lorde's music has done just that.

The next two songs are from Melodrama: "Supercut," a dancy, disco-fied gem, and "Perfect Places," the track that closes the album. Both songs are about loss and unmet expectations, and how dealing with either can result in a desire for desensitization. But whereas Melodrama explores means of escapism via external forces such as synthetic substances and relationships, Lorde examines the other side of the coin in Solar Power, an album about the natural freedom found in nature and the uncluttered mind. This utopian outlook saturates the title track, which comes next, and which Lorde describes to the crowd as "a spell I wrote in a wet bathing suit."

The hit song "Green Light," is the closer, and after it ends all I want to do is sit down and rest my legs and lower back, but I hang in there and applaud with the rest of the roaring crowd until our girl reappears onstage in sort of sparkly, one-legged unitard. The encore consists of "Royals," Lorde's biggest and most recognizable hit (albeit one which I've never particularly loved), and "Team," from Pure Heroine.

After Lorde takes her final bow, the crowd spills out onto the sidewalks of a city which, after several years spent in the wreckage of a global pandemic, is still rebuilding itself. But tonight, one of New York's sacred cultural spaces became a utopia for thousands of seekers who gathered to dance, sing, and feel. As I walk away from Radio City, that wonderful little city near New York, the final chorus of "Team" seems to be ringing down the valley of Sixth Avenue: "We live in cities you'll never see onscreen/Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things/Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams/And you know, we're on each other's team."

Daniel Nolen is a writer, designer, and performer in New York City. He is the co-host of the BroadwayWorld podcast Broken Records, as well as the weekly live show Cast Offs, every Monday at 8pm at Alan Cumming's Club Cumming.

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