SAN FRANCISCO — It’s been a hot minute since Lorde last visited the Bay Area.
The New Zealand artist’s last show, at Oakland Arena in 2018, took place when most of the country didn’t know the difference between a pandemic and epidemic. Heck, Oakland Arena was the Oracle back then. After initially delaying a new album, 25-year-old artist Ella Yelich-O’Connor returned with Solar Power, her most complicated work so far.
At her concert Tuesday at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, the third to last of her Solar Power North American tour, Lorde made it clear that she has missed her fans as much as they have missed her.
“I wished I could call you up,” Lorde said of her time away from the music scene, back home in New Zealand. “I know I don’t seem like it, but I’m shy. A lot of my life has been spent very isolated, very alone. These rooms full of you … have made me feel very cared for, very supported.”
She said this before her band kicked into “Liability,” one of a handful of songs from older albums, which she sprinkled into a 21-song set; first a little at a time and then a lot at once for a climactic finish. The show was broken up into three segments representative of time of the day. Driving the point home was a giant sundial, which consisted of a rotating platform, a 45-degree ladder that Lorde and her touring musicians would sometimes climb, and a Lorde-sized drum (the fulcrum of the ladder), in which she’d duck into a couple of times, including once to change outfits while everyone watched her silhouette. At the back of the stage was a video screen that projected, mostly a sun that was illuminated various colors to assist in the theme; dark at first, then pink and purple to signify daybreak, and so on.
If that sounds like a lot… it was actually a bit underwhelming. The stage was lit in sepia tones most of the night. The band members, doing performance art, were as motionless as possible. If they were having fun on stage, they didn’t show it. While performing, Lorde often had a musician or singer positioned next to her, but unmoving; sometimes facing the back of the stage. The biggest issue with the show as the pacing, which buried most of the slower songs in the first two acts. It was Lorde’s will, for sure, and those songs represented some of the heavier themes of Solar Power.
“We’re gonna have a great show, but right now we need to have a cry,” she said before sitting down inside the drum with one of her crew/mannequin for “Stoned at the Nail Salon.” There was a lot of crying to get through, with only occasional energetic pit stops like “Buzzcut Season,” “The Louvre” and “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All).” Periodic glances at attendees in the building showed that the fans were into the sad vibes. The thousands packed shoulder to shoulder remained standing (not that they had room to sit down). They had clearly connected with the material.
Lorde, meanwhile, performed a noticeable amount of these songs for two-thirds of the show while seated, either on the ladder, in the drum or on the moving sundial platform itself. A couple of times she leaned against the ladder. Dancing songs, these were not.
Lorde began with “Leader of a New Regime,” with a story of a ruined earth, and worked through “Homemade Dynamite” at the back of the stage and “Buzzcut Season,” during which the “sun” against the back of the stage glowed pink. The crowd was ready to explode by this point, and the people moving on the floor created a wave-like effect from above.
Following “Fallen Fruit” she disappeared backstage and returned not with the orange jacket and black pants in which she started the show but in a poofy white dress. On several songs like “The Path,” she performed on the ladder itself, some bandmates standing behind her.
Lorde introduced “Ribs” as a song she wrote when she was 15, and asked the crowd to dance like they were still 15. While fans sang along to most of the songs, the older material clearly still hit harder.
“It feels so good to be out of bed,” she said, after earlier in the show saying she was recovering from a recent illness.
Other highlights from these first two parts of the show included the mood-boosting “Secrets From a Girl (Who’s Seen It All)” and the bassy “The Louvre,” after which Lorde announced there was a “slight sundial malfunction.”
This meant that the majority of the dance-ready songs got held to the last segment of the show. And while the first two segments represented the themes of the album, the last segment was by far the best entertainment of the night.
Reappearing from the drum, in which she’d just changed to a pink cocktail dress, Lorde was ready to get her evening within an evening started. She and her band breezed through “Mood Ring” and “Sober” before launching into “Supercut,” on which she finally broke out into that signature jerky dancing and hopping around onstage.
The new album’s title track—which Lorde said she wrote about in Martha’s Vineyard in an attempt to catch that salty, summer, beach feeling—was sandwiched between the night’s two biggest melodic highlights: “Perfect Places” and “Green Light” (still one of the best pop songs of the last decade). It was all an impeccable 25-minute stretch. Perhaps these songs work better together, all at once. But tossing a few in earlier in the set would have made getting to this moment a happier experience.
She rounded off the show with “Oceanic Feeling” and an encore of two of her biggest hits, “Royals” and “Team.”
Bay Area singer-songwriter Remi Wolf opened the concert in her second or third local performance in recent months, following her headlining show at the Regency Ballroom in January. Wearing a summery dress, Remi Wolf danced around to her band’s surf-pop guitars and funky rhythms. Her 30-minute set included “Disco Man,” “Monte Carlo,” “Sexy Villain” and “Photo ID.” She showed off her most impressive belting on power ballad “Liz,” some rapping on “Woo!” and did a faithful Janis Joplin impression on a cover of “Piece of My Heart.”
Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.