Community and Transcendence: Lorde at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl

It is a storybook summer’s evening–balmy and beautiful, lit up like a scene from a coming-of-age movie.

I pack a picnic blanket, and join most of Melbourne’s indie- listening, 18-30 year old 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 surreality of seeing the Real Actual Person whose art kept me company throughout my teenage blues, has not yet sunk in. It probably never will.

The show opens with indie darling MUNA. Their performance includes several breakup anthems, a song about ‘being really fucking messy’, and crescendos with their viral summer-crush hit Silk Chiffon. ‘We’ve been around for ten years!’ front-woman Katie Gavin says at one point, excitedly. I wonder how thrilling it must feel, to go from starting out in a SoCal dorm room, to being dropped by their original record 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-art setup resembling a sundial. It is an apt symbol for an artist who has touched again and again on the passage of time and the ephemeral beauty of youth (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 no more than a willowy blur, blond hair shining like a beacon in the pale moonlight. But there is such vitality to her, an aura of strength and health that radiates all the way to the back of the crowd.

Lorde has always been a formidable performer. Even as a teenager, she strode across stages in chunky black Docs, forcefully and without apology. Then, she danced with abandon, jerking her limbs around wildly. But there is an ease to her now, 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, with complete mastery over her craft. Her costumes, a tasselled red jumpsuit, a dove-grey suit, a gown the colour of sunlight–are stark and 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 lawn with a book yesterday (what book, Lorde?? WHAT BOOK??). She advises us to never let anyone trivialise our feelings, and to remember that we are enough, despite the capitalist hellscape’s attempts to convince us otherwise. From anyone else, these pearls of wisdom would sound trite and condescending. But Lorde punctuates her words with a gentle half-smile and a sly twinkle to her eye, making them feel sweet and solid and true. 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 and smile through her little speeches until my cheeks hurt.

The show also exhibits Lorde’s underrated skills as a vocalist. Her voice–sharp, sonorous, instantly recognizable–is by turns as light as an ocean breeze, rubbed raw with heartbreak, and gravelly with cigarette smoke and savage adolescence. The Sidney Myer’s acoustics work in her favour, projecting her vocals without warping them, so that even I, at the very fringes of the crowd, hear every nuance inflection comfortably. 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 yes, singer can sing, no shit, but she just sounds so good, switching between moods and eras effortlessly, her vocals so close to their studio counterparts, breath control immaculate through bouts of vigorous jumping.

Despite being the Solar Power tour, the setlist contains only a sprinkling of songs from said album, and is mostly a run-through of the greatest hits from Melodrama and Pure Heroine. This is unsurprising–Lorde’s mellow, introspective third album received mixed reviews upon release, and failed to achieve the instant-modern-classic status of its sisters. Like most fans, I liked it well enough, but thought it lacked the generation-defining, lightning-in-a-bottle quality as its predecessors.

But at the Sidney Bowl, standing on damp grass under a fat yellow supermoon, I gain a new appreciation for Solar Power. The open air heightens the ominous, post-apocalyptic strings of Fallen Fruit, draws out the melancholy of Stoned at the Nail Salon, and sharpens the mocking-yet-wistful quality of Mood Ring. It is somehow the perfect location to confront climate anxiety, mourn your lost innocence and yearn for the transcendental.

Lorde ends with a performance of my favourite song of hers, Team, a love letter to cities you’ll never see on screen, and to friends with acne scars on their faces. In a culture obsessed with individuality, Team is a rare ode to kinship, to sweat and dirt and tightly clasped hands. And you know, we’re on each other’s team, she sings, and the live-wire zap of connection, the overwhelming feeling of community and solidarity, of being seen and heard and understood, that I feel at her words, warm me all the way home.

By Pavani Ambagahawattha

Header Image via @LordeUpdatesBR (Twitter)

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