Lorde at Radio City Music Hall


The first thing I feel walking into Radio City Music Hall for last night’s Lorde show is old. To quote Goldie Hawn’s Elise Elliot in The First Women’s Club, “I am Monique’s mother.” I’m surrounded by energetic twenties, and they all rock watch. I see a girl with a short blond bob wearing a tube top and a mini skirt. No pantyhose. Doesn’t she know it’s forty degrees? She will catch her death! I see a young gay man holding court while wearing a white wedding dress, surrounded by what appears to be the cast of HBO Euphoria. I zip my padded parka up to my chin, head to the bar, and order a $15 beer.

We arrived early so my friend and I decide to drink our beers while we wait in the mile long queue. I’m a sucker for merch, and I’ve already watched a Solar energy tour t-shirt that belongs to my collection. As we slowly ascend the stairs, the Stella Artois begins to reverberate, as does the thrill of attending a show at one of my favorite places in the world. I’m starting to feel younger and more excited. I hear a man next to me telling his girlfriend how amazing it was to see Aretha Franklin in Radio City many years ago. There is an energy to this legendary space that feels unique and spiritual. I think of April, the flight attendant at Company“I decided where I really wanted to live more than any other place was Radio City. I thought it was a wonderful little town near New York.”

After buying the very last average t-shirt available at the sales stand (they actually took it off the plastic display to sell it to me), we find our seats and prepare to be taken to church.

Opening for Lorde is Remi Wolf, a 26-year-old singer from Palo Alto. I’ve never heard of her, but I’m transfixed within minutes. With clever lyrics and a funky, fresh, all-original pop sound, the best way to describe this powerhouse performer is Janis Joplin in technicolor, mixed with a bit of Talking Heads and a hint of 1970s Bette Midler. Every song is filled with hooks to the brim, producing a juicy, saturated sonic experience the likes of which will soon grace my trio of Spotify summer playlists. I can only imagine the thrill of being on the beach as the perfect gem of a Wolf song, “Disco Man”, makes its way onto my portable speaker.

Once Wolf’s set is done and I’ve taken a trip to what might just be the grandest and most beautiful public restroom in all of New York City, the lights go down and the flood of The thunderous and deafening applause that erupts from the crowd is rivaled only by the speed with which everyone jumps to their feet. (I let out a groan as I slowly rise with the group, knees creaking.) But any qualms I feel about having to stand for the next two hours are immediately quashed by the sound and sight of what is happening. go on stage. The lights come on and Lorde is shown in a clean silhouette behind a circular, translucent screenpart of a minimal and surreal sundial that looks like it was designed by Salvador Dalí. It is also eerily similar to Tom Pye’s designs for Akhenaten at the Metropolitan Opera.

As the sounds of “Leader of a New Regime” drift offstage, people around me begin to sway and raise their hands. It sounds like a revival, Lorde offering her music as a sacramental call to arms: “Won’t anyone, anyone be the leader of the new regime? / Free the guardians of the burnt stage another day.” Lorde explored these types of new-age motifs extensively on his latest album, Solar energy, and his live show was obviously designed with them in mind. Each musician remains motionless on stage, trance-like, aside from the physique required to play their respective instruments, while wearing what appear to be zoot suits from the Kanye West collection. The result is a beautiful cult painting.

The next song is “Homemade Dynamite”, from 2017 Melodramafollowed by “Buzzcut Season”, taken from the first album pure heroin. Then, after greeting the audience in her charming New Zealand accent, Lorde asks, “Are you ready to cry?”, producing probably the biggest collective cheer of the evening so far. Yes, Lorde! We are ready to cry!

At this point, I’ve only had a few sips of my second Stella, but I’ve had more than a few sips of Lorde Kool-Aid, and I can feel it. So when the sweet opening lines of “Stoned at the Nail Salon” start, I lose my mind a bit. It’s a song I love and listened to again and again last summer on my morning walks through the pine trees on Fire Island. “Well my blood has been burning for so many summers now / Time to chill it, wherever it leads,” is a feeling that particularly spoke to me on those walks where I had more than a little hangover. Lorde has always been preoccupied with notions of aging and the passing of time, but that’s what she’s most ruminating about. With lines like “All the fair girls, they’ll fade like the roses,” twenty-five-year-old Lorde is aware not only of her own mortality, but also of the fact that she hit hard at such a young age, and still has a life ahead of it. (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 writing with a wisdom beyond her years, and towards the end of “Stoned at the Nail Salon” I remember one of the first songs by Joni, “The Circle Game.” As Lorde sings, “I’d spin this carousel forever if I could”, I think of Joni’s words: “We’re captive on the carousel of time/We can’t come back, we can only watch/Behind where we came.” At twenty-seven, Joni Mitchell’s honest, faith-based folk songs taught a generation of listeners how to feel, but over time Joni’s creativity only widened and she began to explore different areas both stylistic and thematic. With her soulful old insight and ability to create lyrics, I hope Lorde’s career has the potential for similar longevity.

Then “Fallen Fruit”, “The Path” and “California”, all from Solar energy. Then, after a dramatic spin of the giant sundial on stage, Lorde introduces the next song “Ribs” saying that she wrote it when she was fifteen, a fact that becomes even more annoying when hearing the lyrics of the song: “I’ve never felt so alone / It’s so scary to get old.”

Then comes “Le Louvre”, a superb song by Melodrama which Lorde reveals “was written while riding back and forth across the Brooklyn Bridge” when she was “sticky, sweaty, nervous in love.” Next is “Big Star,” another song about the white-hot craze, and then a cover of The Strokes’ “The End Has No End,” which receives only a handful of polite applause.

This lukewarm audience reception is quickly brought to a boil, however, when the music for the next number begins. This is perhaps my favorite Lorde song, “Liability”, and she introduces it with the observation that “You don’t meet this mythical group of people who make everything better…shitty things still happen.” It’s one of the greatest pop ballads of the last ten years and perfectly exemplifies Lorde’s genius in writing songs that are both humbling 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 puts on another outfit, one that appears to closely resemble, as my friend puts it, “a flying squirrel”. When she walks out, we see a gorgeous new costume that looks like an old one from the Bob Mackie section of Cher’s closet. In fact, if I squint, Lorde could almost look like the goddess of pop.

“Mood Ring” follows this change of outfit, and hearing the lyrics “Can’t feel a thing/Keep looking at my mood ring”, I don’t think of the color-changing thermochromic stone, but of the music itself- same, who has the ability to reflect our feelings back to us when we don’t know how to express them. And listening to the thousands of surrounding voices sing 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 dancing and disco gem, and “Perfect Places”, the track that closes the album. Both songs are about loss and unmet expectations, and how dealing with either can lead to a desire for desensitization. But while Melodrama explores means of escape via external forces such as synthetic substances and relationships, Lorde examines the other side of the coin in Solar energy, an album about the natural freedom found in nature and the uncluttered mind. This utopian perspective 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 closest, and after it’s over, all I want to do is sit down and rest my legs and lower back, but I hold on and clap with the rest of the roaring crowd until our daughter reappears. onstage in a kind of sparkly one-legged leotard. The encore consists of “Royals”, Lorde’s biggest and most recognizable hit (though one I never particularly liked), and “Team”, from pure heroin.

After Lorde takes his final bow, crowds spill out onto the sidewalks of a city that, after years in the rubble of a global pandemic, is still rebuilding. But tonight, one of New York’s sacred cultural spaces became a utopia for thousands of seekers who came together to dance, sing and feel. As I drive away from Radio City, that wonderful little town near New York, the closing chorus of “Team” seems to echo through the Sixth Avenue Valley: “We live in cities you’ll never see in screen/Not very pretty, but we sure know how to handle things/Living in the ruins of a palace in my dreams/And you know, we’re on each other’s team.”

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


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