Review: Lorde dances her way into Amalie Arena for rousing Tampa debut

The New Zealand singer-songwriter had plenty of nice things to say about beach life.
Published April 12, 2018

It took half a decade for Lorde to get to Florida. Once she arrived, it took all of a day for her to think about getting a condo.

"This is paradise," the 21-year-old New Zealander told nearly 8,000 fans at Tampa's Amalie Arena on Wednesday, after an off-day spent swimming in the Gulf of Mexico and sipping frozen drinks on the beach.

"This is an amazing part of the country, all these beautiful swamps around," she added, before catching herself: "It's the wrong word, isn't it, 'swamp'?" Is it a swamp? You call it a swamp? It's gorgeous. How can I just live around one of these swamps? Move here?"

Let's not put it past her. The alt-pop singer born Ella Yelich-O'Connor has swiftly built a career out of doing things her own way, as evidenced by her idiosyncratic yet rousing Tampa debut.

"I feel like I've been waiting a long time to play this show," she said. "I'm a long way from home right now, and the fact that there's a room full of people in Tampa that want to come hang out with me is a very big deal."

Funny thing is, the show in some ways didn't feel like that big a deal at all. Much like her sparsest, slinkiest songs, Lorde's Melodrama Tour – so named for her widely acclaimed sophomore album, released last summer – took a more minimalist approach to pop stagecraft, offering few of the gee-whiz geegaws and pyrotechnics relied on by her peers. All Lorde had were a band in the shadows, a large glass box suspended from the rafters, and a tribe of six dancers who seemed almost incidental to the show.

And pity those poor dancers, for their moves were no match for Lorde's. It's not that her movements seemed all that choreographed; indeed, she rarely fell into step with her dancers. Rather, as they did their moves, she did her own, stomping, sashaying and practically swimming across the stage, flicking her forearms out like lightning bolts.

Lorde performs at Amalie Arena in Tampa on April 11, 2018. (Monica Herndon | Times)
Lorde performs at Amalie Arena in Tampa on April 11, 2018. (Monica Herndon | Times)

In essence, Lorde was free, mostly, to do anything she wanted – flip her fingers through her mane of windblown hair, jut her joints left or right or in any angle she pleased. For the choppy and snappy Tennis Court, she did a couple of quick takes on the Running Man; for Disclosure's Magnets, she kneeled to the audience as synths wafted in and out around the beat.

Letting the music guide her, Lorde did her own quick costume change on stage during Ribs, stripping to her glittery skivvies to don a poofy white gown. She took a seat, legs dangling as if off a dock, for powerful solo renditions of Writer In the Dark, Liability and a cover of Frank Ocean's Solo.

With her voice teetering from youthful to husky to evocative – a pinch of PJ Harvey, a pinch of Gwen Stefani, a pinch of Tori Amos – Lorde kept moving and kept the show's energy on a slow build until an undeniable four-song run at the end of her main set. First came the jubilant Supercut and bump-'n'-click groove of breakthrough hit Royals, after which she basked in an extended ovation. Then came the fully limbered, wilder Perfect Places and full-on explosion of Green Light, the song where the entire arena finally dropped their guard and lost their minds, following the lead of their Lorde.

Such freedom of spirit no doubt engendered the same in her opening acts.

Killer Mike and El-P of Run the Jewels open for Lorde at Amalie Arena in Tampa on April 11, 2018. (Monica Herndon | Times)
Killer Mike and El-P of Run the Jewels open for Lorde at Amalie Arena in Tampa on April 11, 2018. (Monica Herndon | Times)

A retrofuturist rap duo twice Lorde's age might not seem like a natural fit on the bill, but Killer Mike and El-P of Run the Jewels didn't seem to care. Mike's throaty bellow and El-P's streetwise sly-guy delivery balanced one another on Talk To Me, Legend Has It, and Call Ticketron, rock-inspired tracks built on kung-fu hustle and jungle-rumbling bass.

Their spit-shined rapport lent levity to a set that could've turned dark quick on lyrics lacerating the brutality of the criminal justice system; instead of glooming in their siren-tinted stage lights; they spliced in in shout-outs to March's Women's History Month, a heartfelt anti-suicide PSA from Mike, and a quasi-apology to the parents in the house for all the swears.

"They're gonna learn how to curse," El-P told the moms and dads. "Might as well be from some of the best."

Mitski opens for Lorde at Amalie Arena in Tampa on April 11, 2018. (Monica Herndon | Times)
Mitski opens for Lorde at Amalie Arena in Tampa on April 11, 2018. (Monica Herndon | Times)

And with the audience still mostly filing in or seated, indie rock singer-songwriter Mitski filled the arena with her dreamy voice, muscly bass and band's flexing, crunching guitars — muscly and gripping and furious on Townie and Your Best American Girl, righteous and howling on Drunk Walk Home.

It was a motley mesh of unlikely tourmates that might've, just maybe, kept some fans away. While 8,000 fans is nothing to sneeze at, Amalie's entire top deck was cordoned off with black curtains, typically a sign of an undersold show.

But don't go thinking this means Lorde's one-and-done with Tampa Bay. At the end of closer Team, she hopped off the stage to hug and kiss fans in the first few rows; she came back wearing a quilt bearing her image and a pretty enormous smile. Beach life sticks with some people, and Lorde might be one of them. She might come back just for fun. Let's make sure our swamps are in order.

— Jay Cridlin