OAKLAND — When Lorde returned to the Bay Area Tuesday, at Oracle Arena; it was possibly not her biggest local crowd draw. That may have come when she played the sunset slot at last year’s Outside Lands. Nor was it her first time playing the basketball arena; that came in 2013 when the New Zealand singer-songwriter stole the show at then-radio station Live 105’s Not So Silent Night holiday show.
Since then, Lorde has proved she is one of the biggest pop stars on the planet, released a critically acclaimed second album with arguable the best song of 2017 (“Green Light”) and has gotten countless chances to improve her live show. On her first two Bay Area stops she was a young woman with a powerful voice. But at Tuesday’s concert, she showed she was now a talented performer as well (that was also obvious at Outside Lands, but given full control of an arena show production, she took advantage).
Lorde began by singing “Sober” in darkness while her team of dancers, dressed all in white, held center stage. The song was was one of three from 2017’s Melodrama that kicked off the show, including “Homemade Dynamite” and “Tennis Courts.” There was a live band as well, but it was hidden in the shadows behind Lorde, her dancers, and a platform that would at various times in the show rise up, revealing a glass box that looked like a cross between a microwave and the plastic packaging one might find when buying a toy car or doll. The singer-songwriter would sometimes interact with the dancers, and sometimes would sing and dance separately from them; her posture was pure Lorde, with her signature jerky moments and gesticulations. But there was more polish and fluidity as well.
For the first third of her 100-minute set, she wore a billowy black dress, but during “400 Lux,” off 2013 debut Pure Heroine, she walked into her glass box and changed into one of several additional outfits, as fans whooped and hollered. Throughout the rest of the show, the dancers took turns inside the box as well. The best moments came when the box was lifted 40 feet into the air by cables and tilted from side to side, while the dancers acrobatically performed inside. At times like these, the dancers would draw attention away from the singer, blurring the line of who was supporting whom.
Lorde then slowed the show down for a grouping of songs (including a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo”) about being alone. She was at her chattiest then, thanking fans for coming and sharing a few memories.
“The Bay Area was one if the first places that went, ‘hey little Ella Yelich-O’Connor,'” she said before launching into “Writer in the Dark,” backed only by a piano, to a sea of lit-up phones. The final of the three slower songs was one of her best: “Liability.” But the extended slow-down caused the show to lag, with an uptick in chattering and beer runs in the stands.
The energy would pick up again with new track “Supercut,” and remain for the rest of the show. Lorde, now dressed in a fluffy white outfit, blasted through “Royals” and into the one-two punch of “Perfect Places” and “Green Light,” the climax of the show. She would return for an encore of three more tunes, but the sheer energy and bombast of those two would remain the peak.
Lorde handpicked the opening acts on the tour, which is why hip-hop duo Run the Jewels preceded her. Killer Mike and El-P knew that some Lorde fans might be taken aback by their performance.
“At this point, some of you are probably wondering ‘who are these guys?’ El-P said about halfway through the duo’s 30-minute set. “Think of us as the uninvited guests to your family party.”
For the most part, the crowd obliged, chanting along to “Talk to Me.” Killer Mike and El-P were all over the place, at times cracking jokes, honoring their favorite Bay Area rappers (including The Jacka, MC Hammer and E40), earnestly dedicating the track “Stay Gold” to the women in the room—”Because you are worth your weight in motherf— gold”—and closing with a serious self-empowerment message and plea that “suicide is not the answer.”
Performance-wise, Run the Jewels brought their A-game, spitting rhymes quickly and powerfully, recalling both modern rappers and classic late ’80s and early ’90s pioneers.
Swedish singer-songwriter Tove Styrke opened the show wearing an outfit that could have been made from the fur of Elmo (poor guy). Her way-too-short six-song set included “Borderline,” from her 2015 album, Kiddo, which struck gold in the U.S., as well as four tracks from her forthcoming album, Sway. The crowd, which at that point was till syphoning in, seemed to dig “Mistakes” and “On the Low,” but gave Styrke its full attention as she progressed into her set with “Changed My Mind,” “Say My Name,” and her electronic cover of Lorde’s “Liability.”