Every generation throws a hero up the pop charts, Paul Simon sang nearly 30 years ago. It’s still true.
One of this generation’s new heroes, Lorde, performed Friday night at the Midland, and though she’s barely 17 years old and has only one recording on her resume, she drew a crowd of about 3,000, most of whom gave her a heroine’s welcome throughout a set that lasted a little more than 65 minutes.
Lorde is Ella Yelich-O’Connor, a high school student from New Zealand who, in a span of less than a year, released her first full-length album, won two Grammys and launched her own headlining tour, which is selling out venues all over the globe.
Backed by a drummer and a guy on keyboards and synths and supported by gales of backing vocal tracks, she played all the cuts off her “Pure Heroine” album plus a few off its extended version, including her sparse cover of the Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party.”
She drew a crowd that was predominantly female, many of whom appeared to be her age, plus or minus a few years. They punctuated the start and finish of several songs with screams, as if at a boy-band show. Most of her audience seemed well-acquainted with all of those songs, though some were clearly there to hear her best-known songs, like “Tennis Court” and “Team.”
Before the most popular of those songs, the blockbuster “Royals,” she acknowledged that Kansas City had a role in its inspiration (a photograph she spotted in National Geographic of George Brett signing autographs and wearing a Royals home jersey.) When she finished that one, however, there was a noticeable flow of fans out the theater doors.
Lorde’s stage act is dramatic but minimal. She spent much of the set shrouded in shadows, though the flashy light show did get ecstatic a few times. The blizzard of confetti also shed some frivolity on an otherwise gothic presentation. She exhibited some stage moves that felt influenced by Stevie Nicks, especially when she donned the impressive gunmetal cape, and, to a lesser extent, Alanis Morissette (the waving of the long mane of hair). She spoke to the crowd several times, but what she was saying wasn’t always discernible from the back of the room
There is a sameness to her sparse arrangements, but those arrangements provide space for her lyrics, which can be at once as cryptic as they are evocative. It makes for music that resembles other artists and bands, like the XX, Lana Del Rey, Grimes (one of Lorde’s heroes) and even, as a friend suggested, Massive Attack.
Away from the stage front, where the crowd was engaged most of the night, there were some lulls in the set. But for the most part this crowd was primed to give a fledgling heroine a raucous welcome. On this evening, Lorde was preaching to an exuberant choir.