It is a storybook summer’s evening—balmy and beautiful, lit up like a scene from a coming-of-age movie. I dress warm, pack a picnic blanket, and join most of Melbourne’s 18-30, indie-listening demographic to watch Lorde at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, her first performance here since the Melodrama tour in 2017. It is my first time seeing her, and the oddness of seeing the person behind the art that kept me company throughout my teenage blues has not yet sunk in. It probably never will.
The show opens with rapidly-rising indie darling MUNA. Their performance includes several breakup anthems, a song about “being really fucking messy”, and crescendos with the viral summer-crush hit ‘Silk Chiffon’. “We’ve been around for ten years!” frontwoman Katie Gavin says at one point, excitedly. From starting out in a SoCal dorm room, to being dropped by their original label for not making enough money, to opening for Lorde, this is MUNA’s big moment, and they embrace it with energy and exuberance, leaving with a flurry of promises to return.
Half an hour and four bouts of false-alarm cheering from the audience later, the stage lights up again, revealing a minimalist, modern-arty setup resembling a sundial. It is an apt symbol for an artist whose work has touched consistently on the fleetingness of youth, and the frightening forward march of time (“I've never felt more alone / It feels so scary getting old”; “Couldn't wait to turn fifteen / Then you blink and it's been ten years”). Lorde steps into the spotlight, smiling, and my first thought is: god, she looks so good. From my last-minute pleb tickets on the lawn, she is just a willowy blur, blond hair a beacon in the pale moonlight. But there is such vitality to her, an aura of strength and good health that radiates all the way to the back of the crowd.
Lorde’s stage presence is formidable. She skips and stomps with the same heavy stride of her Pure Heroine days, taking up space without apology. She still dances with wild abandon, turning her body into a vessel for the music, heartbreak and euphoria flowing into every unchoreographed jerk of her limbs. But there is an ease to her, a settledness that feels new. She smiles serenely through even her most technically challenging songs and moves with the unhurried elegance of a woman in her element. The stark lines of her costumes—tasselled jumpsuit, dove-grey suit, gown the colour of sunlight—make her seem ethereal. Above all, she looks happy. When she says, earnestly and at least three times, how thrilled she is to be performing in Melbourne, I believe her.
Between songs, Lorde chats with the audience. She recounts how she sunbathed on this very lawn with a book yesterday (what book, Ella? WHAT BOOK?), advises us to never let anyone trivialise our feelings, and to remember that we are enough, despite society’s attempts to convince us otherwise. From anyone else, these words would sound trite, condescending. But Lorde punctuates them with a half-smile and a sly twinkle to her eye, and they feel as sweet and solid as freshwater pearls, pressed from her hands into ours. She is a warm, eloquent presence, encasing the audience in a bubble of sisterly intimacy, making you feel as though she is speaking to you and you alone. I smile and smile through her little speeches until my cheeks hurt.
Lorde’s skills as a vocalist are also on full display. Her voice—husky, sonorous, instantly recognizable—is by turns as light as an ocean breeze, splintered by heartbreak, and gravelly with cigarette smoke and savage adolescence. The Sidney Myer’s acoustics project it beautifully, transmitting every nuance and inflection to the very edges of the crowd. At one point, I turn to my friend and state, wonderingly, the obvious: oh my god? This is live? Like, she’s doing this live? And yeah no shit, singer can sing, but she just sounds so good, switching effortlessly between moods and eras, breath control immaculate despite much vigorous jumping.
Despite this being the Solar Power tour, the setlist is also seasoned liberally with hits from Pure Heroine and Melodrama. (This mixed setlist creates amusing tonal whiplash—you’re swaying to the dulcet, flower-power tones of ‘California’ one minute, then ugly-crying to ‘Liability’ the next). Solar Power is far from a bad record, but she is mellower than her sisters, and (or so I have always thought) lacks the emotionally charged, lightning-in-a-bottle quality that made them modern classics.
But at the Sidney Myer, sprawling on damp grass under a sickly yellow supermoon, I gain a new appreciation for Solar Power. The night air heightens the ominous, post-apocalyptic strings of ‘Fallen Fruit’, draws out the melancholy of ‘Stoned at the Nail Salon’, and mellows out the satirical bite of ‘Mood Ring’ into something wistful, and rather sad. An open-air amphitheatre is somehow the perfect venue to confront climate anxiety, mourn your lost girlhood, and yearn for transcendence—sometimes all at once.
Lorde ends the show with a performance of ‘Team’, an aching love letter to cities you’ll never see on screen and friends with acne-scarred faces. In a culture obsessed with individualism, ‘Team’ is that rare ode to kinship, to sweat and dirt and tightly clasped hands. It is my favourite song of hers, and one of my favourite songs ever. “And you know, we're on each other's team”, she sings, and the live-wire zap of connection, of being flayed open and tightly held that I feel at her words, warms me all the way home.