The last time she was in Adelaide, Lorde was a teenager – as were many of her fans. Nine years on, the 26-year-old New Zealand singer-songwriter (real name Ella Yelich-O’Connor) made a hotly anticipated return for one night on her Solar Power tour: a welcome addition to Adelaide Festival’s 2023 program.
The near-decade gap between appearances lent a particular resonance to the self-reflective songs that fill her third album. ‘Couldn’t wait to turn 15,’ she sings on one track, ‘then you blink, and it’s been 10 years.’
Early-comers at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre enjoyed two support acts. Stellie, a local indie-pop artist on the rise, performed first to a small crowd clustered at the front of the room, before US band MUNA leapt onto the stage. This boundlessly energetic trio wasted no time chatting (it was only at the end of their set that they remembered to tell us their band’s name), instead leading the growing audience through one upbeat electropop song after another.
After an interval, The Beatles’ ‘Sun King’ indicated Lorde’s return was nigh. The lights dimmed, the curtain rose and there she was, silhouetted against a blazing sphere as she launched into ‘Leader of a New Regime’.
Gone was the moody aesthetic of her earlier albums. The new, solar-powered Lorde is blonde-haired and favours relaxed pastel pantsuits. Between each song, the lights went out before flashing on again to reveal Lorde and her musicians (everyone suited up à la David Byrne) rearranged into new formations. At the centre of the multilayered set was a monolithic rotating staircase, from atop which the singer could be seen by fans in all corners of the arena.
Although many elements of the show were highly choreographed, Lorde left moments to talk freely with the audience, reflecting on the changes and growth of the past decade. She places a lot of value on her relationship with her fans (famously eschewing social media in favour of intimate, conversational newsletters) and has assumed a big sister role in recent songs such as ‘Secrets from a Girl (Who’s Seen it All)’. Much of her sisterly wisdom centres on reconnection with the natural world (‘Come one, come all’ she encourages in ‘Solar Power’ the new album’s title track, as she ‘lead[s] the boys and girls onto the beaches’).
But in concert what Lorde seemed to cherish even more than chatting with her audience was dancing with them. A song from 2017’s Melodrama was introduced with the realisation, ‘We’ve never danced together to this one before, Adelaide!’
‘Ribs’ from her debut album came with the exhortation: ‘Shall we dance for our 15-year-old selves tonight?’ Even the quieter songs from her third album (criticised by some for being, bluntly, a little dull), emerged with surprising power and vitality in live performance. There was rarely reason to stand still.
It was a cathartic and joyous evening for long-time fans, and a fitting way to mark the last weekend of Adelaide’s festival season: a final sun-bright burst of late summer energy before the cold sets in once again.
Lorde played for one night only on 16 March 2023 as part of Adelaide Festival.