Four years ago, New Zealand pop poet Lorde played Portland’s Crystal Ballroom a few hours before indie-pop band Vampire Weekend took the stage. Now in 2018, hot off the release of her sophomore album “Melodrama,” she’s headlining arenas and stadiums across the world.
But somehow Lorde — born Ella Yelich-O’Connor — manages to make even the largest venues feel intimate. Maybe she even gave Portland a little extra love. In a long speech during the middle of her performance at the Moda Center Saturday night, she mentioned that both her assistant and tour photographer are from the city. “Rip City! I don’t know what that means, but I like it,” she said to the audience.
Part of this intimacy was her choice of openers for the tour: Swedish pop artist Tove Styrke and hip-hop duo Run the Jewels. While Styrke provided a bubbly and synth-pop filled performance, including a cover of Lorde’s “Liability,” Run The Jewels ran through a profane and energetic performance.
Younger fans and their parents may have considered the rambunctious hip-hop group an odd opener for this tour, but the duo proved its fit, even apologizing to the parents in the crowd for its profanity-filled set.
Its members — Killer Mike and EL-P — sent positive messages into the audience with every bit of stage banter they had in them, mentioning Women’s History Month at points and even ending the set on a note about suicide prevention. Run the Jewels probably garnered some new fans among the salt-and-pepper part of the audience: most seemed to be ‘90s babies who knew the words already. They continued to sing along for every song when it was finally time for Lorde to come onstage.
After a pulsating version of “Sober” at the beginning of her set, Lorde emerged clad in a sheer black jumpsuit. The dancers around her moved in beautiful jolts, all dressed in white. The crowd screamed, and she began her set with songs from “Pure Heroine,” her 2013 debut album.
Known for mixing an emotional vocal delivery and poetic songwriting with intricate and heavy pop, Lorde, it seems, has been destined to play arena tours. Her emotional and nuanced delivery poses her in a different light than contemporaries like Taylor Swift, though. David Bowie called her the future of music.
Rather than focus on visual gimmicks and a variety of costume changes, the tour delivers a stark stage setting for the artist. Her dancers often spent time suspended in a glass box in the air. Her first costume change was on stage where she shed the transparent jumpsuit and wrapped a pink skirt around her waist. Four panels at the back of the stage occasionally showed videos of clandestine teen activities — drinking from the same flask in dusty rooms, driving in cars with heads out the window and jumping into dark pools.
These visuals fit well with the sense of vulnerability Lorde carries as an artist, especially with an album as intense as “Melodrama”. She gave long speeches before songs such as “Writer in the Dark” and “Liability.”
“Some of my favorite songs are about being lonely,” she said before launching into a nuanced and pristine cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo.”
After this part of the set, Lorde riled the audience into dancing again, singing “Melodrama’s” larger, more resonant songs like “Supercut” and “Perfect Places.” The audience sang along to her breakout hit, “Royals.” And soon, Lorde was asking everyone in the crowd to give it their all for “Green Light,” “Melodrama’s” single. Confetti stars inscribed with phrases like “Melodrama forever” and “Green Light” rained down on the floor seats as the song climaxed.
Lorde exited and stagehands placed a drum pad in the center of the stage. She played a pared-down encore — just her and the drum pad — ending the show with the surging “Team.” She ventured into the audience at the end of the song. But after, the lights turned on and Moda Center employees began to sweep the confetti stars from the floor as audience members grabbed handfuls of them to take home.
And just as many intimate dance-filled nights do, the show ended in a tidying of the aftermath. Early in her set, Lorde explained that she likes to address an audience as if she were having dinner with its members. “Thanks for having dinner with me, Portland,” she crooned.