Before beginning, I’d like to acknowledge everyone who has been impacted by the devastation brought to upper and central North Island by Cyclone Gabrielle. Our thoughts, prayers and aroha are with you at this time. We are with you. Ehara taku toa i te toa takitahi engari he toa takitini.
When Ella Yelich-O’Connor’s track ‘Royals’ and debut album ‘Pure Heroine’ hit the big-time the juggernaut became an almost unstoppable force. There were platinum sales, Grammy’s, Brits and Golden Globes plus a raft of headliner appearances. Then there was ‘Melodrama’, and the track ‘Green Light’, then the curation of the soundtrack for ’The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1’, then collaborations with everyone from Khalid to Jack Antonoff. The snowball threatened to swallow the mountain.
It’s no secret that touring for her first two albums was extremely difficult, Yelich-O’Connor has been on record talking about how she struggled with extreme stage fright, with the experience of performing on tour night after night leaving her mentally and physically drained and raw. She recently told Ensemble Magazine about how crippling this was, even citing times when she had an on-stage panic attack. She’s open about the therapy undertaken and what a difference that’s made to her quality of life.
Her retreat from the public gaze during that time and a “life-changing” trip to Antarctica (which produced the book ‘Going South’ with photographer Harriet Were) provided the sustenance for her third album, ‘Solar Power’. These are songs that, through many lenses, reflect on her coming-of-age journey as she heads full on into the spotlight. There are stinging barbs of satire railing against celebrity worship (especially that experienced in social media), the so-called ‘wellness culture’ and a much needed commentary on how we as humans need to re-connect with nature. The theme of the title track may have its origins at Martha’s Vineyard, Mass, but as a true Kiwi, it’s natural for Yelich-O’Connor to want to do this. To get amongst it. Nature. And that brings up the reason she’s here.
The ‘Solar Power’ Tour, the reboot, was an attempt to get back and connect with nature and the environment. Coming from Takapuna, it’s an obvious choice to want to be on the beach, sand in the toes and salt spray in the hair. She’s talked at length about how this album and tour is all about that reconnection. All around the globe she’s made a conscious decision to book smaller, more intimate venues, to prioritise her fans over huge conglomerate stadiums. To make the experience more personal, more ‘natural’.
That would have happened tonight, had Mother Nature not had other ideas. Tonight’s gig was supposed to be in the laid-back grounds of Day’s Bay, a popular spot for whanau picnics and impromptu backyard cricket matches. But, thanks to the devastating impact of Cyclone Gabrielle promoters felt, quite rightly, that the risks were too high and chose to move indoors to the slightly less pastoral environs of the TSB arena. So, no warm summer breezes or late February sunsets to back light the stage as the main act takes up position on the risers under the glare of an unfiltered indoor house lights and the stale fug from the building’s overworked air-con units. In tonight’s case, sweaty bodies, overheated. Not exactly the plan in mind.
“Who’s ready for a good n-i-i-i-i-ght?!” shouts Capital homegirl Riiki Reid as she opens up with a vibrant mix of rock and dance pop including ‘Good Times’, ‘Maybe We Could Fly’, and a couple of new, softer songs – ‘Sleep and Wake up’ and ‘Home With Me’. She’s backed by three likely lads: Eli and Dylan on guitars and Sam on drums, dressed all in white and sporting matching beards and haircuts. Reid moves like a dancer, with lithe, graceful movements but an unnatural vigour, as if she’s leading a flash mob. She’s energetic and vibrant and refreshing. Her voice is strong and powerful and even if her songs aren’t familiar the growing crowd appreciate the effort and bop along with her. The short set completes with her ‘hit’, ‘The City’, the most likely comparison to Benee’s sound. Her grooves are youthful and slick and she has that stage presence that shows she is ready to own this room.
That was followed by Fazerdaze – aka -Amelia Rahayu Murray, one of my favourite indie artists right now. I saw her do Laneway a while back and she was an absolute joy to listen to. Her melodic, driving strum pop is infectious. A master of her own destiny, she released her debut self-titled e.p. back in October ‘14, recording entirely in her bedroom studio in Auckland.
That was followed up by her full-length album ‘Morningside’ (2018), which spawned the single ‘Lucky Girl’. Somewhat like Lorde herself, Murray was not entirely prepared for the attention and snowballing momentum that the single created. In the following years she spent time wrangling with this newfound attention.
After a cathartic hiatus, ‘Break!’ came as a reaction to that. We got to hear everything from that tonight. Her ‘90s-infused fuzz guitars and stoic lyrics bring the energy and the reason: “Something’s gotta give/ Something’s gotta change/ You’re just trying to live/ I’m just gonna break”. It’s healing, a powerful mosh, harking back to bands like Nirvana.
Tonight, Fazerdaze is a strong and staunch five piece. They open with the perfect shoegaze of ‘Reel’, then the moping ‘’Come Apart’ and the new flagship sing ‘Break!’ which is accompanied by a wash of green lighting that mimics the cover of the e.p. it came from.
There’s a brooding ‘Winter’ and the dreamy powerpop of new song ‘So Easy’. Then another newbie, a crunchy, 80’s synthy groove called ‘Cherry Pie’. I like this a lot and really hope this one will drop soon. I’ll be first in line to buy it! The Fazers, err, faze out with the big one – a mighty, heavy version of ‘Lucky Girl’.
Another break and then we’re off. The ‘Solar Power’ Tour finally happens! Initially wearing a pure white robe dress, and strutting the stage like a pagan high priestess Lorde opens her nearly two-hour show with ‘Leader of the New Regime’ followed by the first of a series of massive bangers (excuse the pun), starting with “Homemade Dynamite’ and the melancholic ‘Buzzcut Season’. She belts out these tracks from a number of positions atop, aside and underneath a rotating staircase that imitates both an ancient sundial and an industrial factory gantry.
Lorde’s hair is bleach blond. Her costumes resemble the sky – Yellow for the sun, blue and violet with sequins for the sunsets. So much choice. The band, dressed in golden suits, pose like neo-classical statues, whilst singing and playing. At times they look like they’re imitating images from Mao’s cultural revolution posters; Bauhaus industrial design textbooks or Stalin’s recruitment posters.
The staging is minimalistic. The layout centred around a large projected sun-disc that waxes and wanes depending on the mood of the music and a steep sundial-themed staircase. It reaches upwards as if to heaven, or Nirvana. As each song dies, the lights are killed and Lorde disappears and re-emerges somewhere else on the set. It’s all very choreographed. It’s like a musical, with the set stolen from the 1927 Sci-fi flick Metropolis. Yet it’s not a sinister theme with the sun’s warm hue illuminating the stage, gently morphing it’s colour pallet as the set list progresses.
While the 7-9 strong band are prominent, their minimal activity never robs Lorde of her spotlight. She is always the sun-goddess, and nothing can distract her disciples from the delivery of her message.
At one point, Lorde sits down inside a large illuminated disc for a ‘come to Jesus’ moment. She acknowledges her fans, who have been with her from the start. She acknowledges and thanks everyone for sticking with her. She acknowledges the difficulties of this tour, which has been ‘a journey’ – tickets bought way back in 2021 finally clipped!
She explains that Wellington is the perfect place to open this tour because back when she was 17 she stood on this very stage and nervously sang ‘Hard Feelings’, one of her early songs. She remembers her first gig at the Michael Fowler centre – that debilitating nervous energy. Her fans were there. They still are. And we, the Welly crowd got it, she says. We – saw her – and she saw us, she says. “That’s so special… So, let’s dance for our 17-year-old selves”.
Tonight, her long speeches are confident and poignant. She has always connected with her fans, knows the power and the currency. “We’ve grown together, like High School sweethearts… All I ever wanted was a relationship like this.”
There are a number of even more special moments like a rendition of “Stoned At The Nail Salon” and another of ‘Oceanic Feeling”, both sung completely in te reo Māori. And her pronunciation is spot on. No nasal half-caste attempts for her. It’s fluent and powerful.
Most of the songs in her set are echoed back, right from the start. This room knows her well and has every lyric tattooed upon their person. They own these songs more than she does and sing back to her every line from ‘Mood Ring’ and ‘Supercut’ to ‘Perfect Places’, ‘Sober’ and closers ‘Royals’ and ‘Team’.
“I know this summer has been one of the most fucked up summers but I invite you to summon future summers into this space.” It’s what this tour is about, the supernatural energy of nature and the good vibes that come from skin kissed by the sun.
I love her optimism and energy. It’s refreshing and cathartic at a time when we all need healing. What could be better to heal us than singing ‘Royals’ or ‘Team’ at the top of your lungs with a room of 2500-3000 like minded individuals?
Truth be told, this was hands down the best show I’ve seen this year. If you get the chance to witness one of the upcoming shows on this tour, do it. You won’t regret it!
This first appeared: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/