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Review: Ellie Goulding's vulnerable voice, down-to-earth demeanor shine at Tampa's Amalie Arena

In a realm ruled by perfect pop princesses, Ellie Goulding is the YAAAS QWEEN next door, adorable yet approachable, an idol who’d rather come ’round for tea than retire to her palace.

Oh, and she also looks like she could whip your pasty white keister in cardio.

For more than 7,100 fans at Tampa’s Amalie Arena Thursday night – many of them sparkling in their girls’-night-out finest – Goulding was the bestie in bright lights they all dreamed she would be, warbling songs of heartbreak and hope without pretense.

“I like to share with other people in the hope that other people will understand what I’ve been through,” the English singer-songwriter told the crowd, many of whom nodded yes, they knew exactly what she meant.

At 29, Goulding bubbles just below the impossible bars of success set by stars like Taylor Swift, Beyonce and Adele. But as much as any artist working, she’s found a solid niche bouncing between the worlds of pop, electronic and rock music (this summer, she’ll perform at Bonnaroo, Glastonbury and Lollapallooza).

She also knows how to give a stage her all. Eschewing sky-high heels for chunky black boots or her own bare feet, Goulding stomped and twirled amid a cadre of dancers, her powerful, athletic body cutting swoops through peach and purple lights as her band pounded out Aftertaste and Goodness Gracious.

The performance was choreographed, but not overly so; Goulding carried herself with more casual resolve than fierce, cutting precision. Even when she donned a jacket with her name bedazzled on the back, she didn't sacrifice substance for sparkle – the voice you heard singing lead was live all night, something not all pop stars can claim.

Good thing, too, since her voice is utterly her own, a vulnerable lilt that flickers and pirouettes around love songs "with a weird twist in them," as she put it. On the effervescent Something In the Way You Move, it was the voice of a folk singer, fluttering gaily through the air as if freed from gravity’s pull. On the acoustic ballad Lights and folksy Lost and Found, it was fragile and intimate, lighter than helium yet hard as a rock when it hit you.

Often, Goulding’s voice showcased the folk sensibility that fuels much of her music. Holding On For Life, with its handclaps, pianos and booming kickdrum, flirted with Americana, as did the warm, solo Devotion. And while Goulding is no belter, there were moments when the jubilant Anything Could Happen felt a little like gospel.

Most of the night, Goulding stuck to the dancehall fever of her new album Delirium, as she cavorted in a form-fitting bodysuit for the forceful, tribal Keep On Dancin’ and Don’t Need Nobody. And in one magical three-song cycle, she spun through three of Delirium’s best tracks: Tropical-tinged sing-alongs On My Mind and Codes and the clinking, tinkling ’80s groove of Don’t Panic.

Goulding nodded to her EDM roots and proclivities by singing a pair of Calvin Harris collaborations – Outside, performed with a prizefigher’s intensity; and I Need Your Love, which brought screams of recognition and geysers of CO2 from the lip of the stage. And late in the set, she earned ovations for huge hits Burn, infused with a little pop-punk edge; and closer Love Me Like You Do, during which she leaned out to clasp hands with fans.

But no song showcased Goulding’s connection to her fan base like Army, an ode to female friendship. The women in the crowd, including a few very young girls, beamed and sang along, feeling adored and empowered. Goulding was singing for them, and they in turn for her. As she blew them a quick, prim kiss at the end, she looked both regal and relatable, her realness the coin of their realm.

-- Jay Cridlin

[Last modified: Friday, June 3, 2016 1:48am]

    

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