Show Preview – Lorde, Oracle Arena

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Lorde has been a cultural sensation since appearing – seemingly out of nowhere – with 2013’s huge smash hit “Royals.” Pop has seen countless ultimately forgettable, over-managed 16-year-olds break out with carefully-formed personas and a brand that’s at least as important as music, with artistry a distant second place; but Royals was something special, a wry, utterly straight-faced, swooningly melodic slice of insight and bite.

It’s been a whirlwind since then, and you could be forgiven for assuming that, in the years since, Lorde (whose real name, Ella Marija Lani Yelich-O’Connor, we assume didn’t get to be her stage name because the Twitter handle was already taken) had floated away into stardom and away from her roots. It’s not so – and this week, we get to see that in person, as she comes to play the Oracle Arena this Tuesday, March 13.

By contrast with Lorde’s norm-exploding rise, the arena tour is suffering something like an artistic crisis. While the resurrection circuit is doing great business (Guns n’Roses, Paul Simon, and always The Rolling Stones), it’s beginning to look – and feel – like arena tours are bigger than the connection between audiences and artists that are the heart of a truly great live show. For proof of this, look no further than the lukewarm response to Smashing Pumpkins’ newly-announced arena tour, where whole sections of massive venues are standing unsold. It takes something special for an artist to punch through the bloat and actually make an impression bigger than the posters and the sound system. Lorde may have embarked on an ambitious tour, but it might well be that the arena tour needs her more than she needs an arena tour.

Fans of Saturday Night Live will remember Lorde’s performance on the show about a year ago when she previewed two tracks from her follow-up to Pure Heroine, called Melodrama. On SNL she performed two tracks from the record – “Liability” and “Green Light” – and Melodrama was released to rave reviews three months later. The Melodrama World Tour, which kicked off to a resounding start in Manchester last September, is still running strong, and it’s made it to the West Coast.

There’s something of the old-school pop singer about Lorde; something uncompromising yet appealing, the sight of an artist who is reaching out to a wide audience on her own terms (who else would give themselves literally an aristocratic stage name and not look preposterous?) Since releasing Pure Heroine, she’s made the most of the opportunities that have opened up, including curating the hauntingly – and surprisingly – beautiful soundtrack from The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1. The movie’s lead single “Yellow Flicker” got her a nomination for the Golden Globes Award for Best Original Song; Lorde, it seems, is the kind of artist who can use any platform as a venue for her gifts.

The Melodrama world tour will see her play 69 concerts across North America, Europe, and Oceania, supported by Khalid in Europe, and George Marple on the New Zealand-Australian leg. At the Oracle, she’ll be supported by Tove Styrke, and, continuing to showcase her gift for upending expectations, none other than rap’s sharpest contemporary political voices: the exhilarating, excoriating, none-more-woke Run The Jewels. Try to imagine any other pop singer pulling that bill together and you’ll see why Lorde’s arena tour is no vanity act; this is music that’s alive, engaged with its moment, and even better in person.

 

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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