Lorde Enchants Austin on Opening Night of First Full U.S. Tour

New Zealand pop sensation arrives with minimal band, maximum confidence

March 4, 2014 9:55 AM ET
Lorde performs at Austin Music Hall in Austin, Texas.
Gary Miller/Getty Images

Lorde began the opening night of her first full-fledged U.S. tour completely alone. With only a solitary microphone at center stage of the sold-out Austin Music Hall, the pop sensation slinked out front while funereal synth tones set the mood before the opening lines of "Glory and Gore."

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It was a move that put every bit of focus on the 17-year-old New Zealander and served as something of a template for the whole of the 70-minute show; the singer writhing and occasionally convulsing in time with the punishing beats of her gothic pop songs, her startling voice buffeted by rounds of backup vocals to make every moment as impactful as possible.

As her star has risen thanks to the worldwide success of the hit single "Royals," Lorde has been described as a new breed of pop star with an edge and fully realized artistic vision that's something like what'd result if PJ Harvey was cloned and re-engineered to appeal to the Stephenie Meyer/Twilight set.

Even as a young woman the singer is clearly comfortable and in control onstage and when a black curtain behind her dropped to reveal her only two band members – on drums and keyboards – the picture of Lorde as a performer became even clearer.

The immense production on Lorde's hit album Pure Heroine features layers of vocal tracks, which were delivered Monday night via pre-recorded backing tracks instead of using live singers. Using backing tracks locks a performer into a set song structure and can make a show feel like something of a karaoke set at times, but Lorde's live singing meshed with the recorded elements and her band in a way that seemed far more organic and natural than would be expected of someone so young who's just starting their first major tour.

The New Zealand singer's youth was brought back to the fore throughout thanks to the lyrics of songs like "White Teeth Teens" and "Ribs" that deal with youthful rebellion and romantic confusion from a distinctly teenage perspective that has made her a hero to adolescent girls the world over, plenty of whom were in attendance with parents on Monday.

An interesting note about Lorde's development as an artist at such a young age; in interviews she exudes confidence about the vision she has for herself and she's clearly someone who wants to continually move forward instead of trotting out the hits and treating everything else as filler.

A more menacing and sparse arrangement on many of the songs suggested she wants to keep things fresh, and production staff at the venue reported she'd spent six hours rehearsing the previous day to get the reworked songs where they needed to be for a live show. If that's true, it shows Lorde is serious about this whole business of being a star for the long haul, and one who will challenge herself creatively as she matures and moves from teenage angst as lyric fodder.

A glimpse of what that future might look like came roughly 20 minutes into the show as she introduced her cover of the Repalcements' "Swingin' Party" as being a the kind of song she hoped and imagined herself being able to write one day.

What followed was her most emotionally naked portion of the evening, in part because it was the only song where she sang completely solo with no backing tracks and turned the chorus ("If bein' afraid is a crime, we hang side by side") from a loser's lament into a tale of doomed lovers.

That treatment was revealing because the spartan treatment of that cover compared to the at times overwhelming compositions of her own material suggests she feels some need to take the focus off of herself and split time with her arrangements and chorus of not-there backup singers.

That all could change very soon, perhaps by the end of this tour. Because in many moments throughout the short but strong set Lorde showed she has the power and the conviction to own the stage all by herself.

 Set list:

"Glory and Gore"
"Biting Down"
"Tennis Court"
"White Teeth Teens"
"Buzzcut Season"
"Swingin' Party" (Replacements cover)
"Still Sane"
"400 Lux"
"Easy" (Son Lux cover)
"A World Alone"

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