Brit Ellie Goulding is an artist at the crossroads of her career. Now, this may seem like a weird statement in reference to an artist who has just released only her second album, but it is accurate. Her first album was a huge hit in the UK and the single “Lights” was a massive hit in North America. Now she has released the follow up, Halcyon, and it does not feature the electro pop tendencies of the first rather she has gone more towards pure pop mixed with dubstep and lyrics about a rough break up. Goulding is trying to forge her way in a music industry that likes its female pop artists to fit into a highly sexualized cookie cutter mould. That is not this girl and she is trying to remain popular without conforming. Goulding wants to be edgy, but I fear she might be a little too nice to pull it off.
On this tour the songs from her second album Halcyon make up the bulk of the set. These songs are more mature than those of the debut album. She began with “Don’t Say a Word”, the lead off song off Halcyon, which is relatively loud and up tempo compared to what fans might expect from her. This is when I began to see that she was trying for a more edgy rep. For example, the song “Under the Sheets” began with a drum intro and voice alteration which made it almost unrecognizable.
The volume was up all night even during the dancier numbers. This in large part can be attributed to the four guys on stage with her. Her band was a four-piece outfit that included a drummer, bassist/guitarist/percussionist/keyboards, guitarist/keyboards/pianist, and keyboardist. Several of them played a number of instruments and really filled out the sound for Goulding and supported her voice well.
Live, even more so than on her recordings, her raspy and angelic voice is a tool that she uses to her advantage. It is unique and really makes you take notice. There is no doubt that she can sing. So much so that Goulding is not afraid to use auto-tune and other technology on it to change things up a bit. She also liberally uses backing tracks to support her live vocals.
On stage she exudes confidence strutting purposely from side to side. Her look is striking with the platinum blonde hair and the dark clothes. Definitely does not look like a “nice” English lass from the countryside in Herefordshire. Dressed in low cut black boots, leather shorts and a see-through, long sleeve black top, she might look edgy, but she is seriously nice. Whenever she addressed the audience it was to check out if they were doing alright or talk rather softly about the meaning behind a song.
The pacing of the show is something that needed some work. There were several instances when songs like “Anything Can Happen” and “Salt Skin” got the crowd going and then she would slow things down with mid or down tempo songs. All the energy she had worked hard to build up seemed a little wasted. It left things a little flat at times.
For instance, in the middle of her 90 minute set, her band left the stage and she did a little mini set of slow songs including “Guns and Horses”, “I Know You Care” and her excellent reworking of the classic Elton John song “Your Song”. It was an excellent opportunity for her fans to really connect with her excellent voice, which was showcased during these three songs, and obvious talent. I, for one, was charmed and entertained, but it seemed to me some fans were just there to see the “Lights” singer do her dance thing. It allowed a deeper look into her as an artist without all that “noise” around her singing voice. It made me realize that she is not just a dance artist. That being said, the energy in the room did noticeably go down a notch or two causing her to have to work hard to get it back up again.
What I learned about Ellie Goulding over the course of this show is that she was a musician/artist who is looking for a long career and is not willing to compromise her self identity to be popular. Any preconceptions I had were washed away. I noticed that in between most songs she would kneel down and consult a binder, flipping its pages while sipping on some water. Later I read that that binder contained her set list and other things timed down to the second. This is something rarely heard of in pop music. She is a serious gal who takes her “job” seriously.
The highlight of the show, if you base it on audience reaction, was her lead single from Halcyon, “Anything Can Happen”. A fun dance number with an anthemic chorus that led to plenty of singing along and hands waving in the air from the fans in the packed venue. Metropolis was filled with tons of energy. The keyboards, synthesizers and upbeat melody all melt into a tune that encouraged the audience to participate along with Ellie Goulding. Artist and fans became one for a short time and that was magical. And it demonstrated the potential this artist has.
Opening act the up and coming St. Lucia (aka lead singer/guitarist Jean-Philip Grobler from South Africa) warmed the crowd up on this cold evening. Live St. Lucia is accompanied by Patricia Beranek, Nick Brown, Ross Clark, and Nick Paul. Running through songs like “September”, “Before the Dive” and “Closer Than This” Grobler demonstrated his strong voice and the electro music he played really caught the attention of the fans over the course of his short 30 minute set.
1) Don’t Say a Word
3) Figure 8
4) Salt Skin
5) Hanging On
8) Guns and Horses (solo acoustics)
9) I Know You Care (accompanied by piano)
10) Your Song (Elton John cover)
11) My Blood
12) Only You
13) Under the Sheets
14) Anything Could Happen
16) Without Your Love
17) Starry Eyed
18) I Need Your Love