Sunday, May 8, 2016

Delirium World Tour | Ellie Goulding with Years & Years and Bebe Rexha

Just prior to the release of her latest album, Ellie Goulding was all but promised that the world would soon bow at her feet as it does for Rihanna or Katy Perry. "Love Me Like You Do" sucker-punched the globe, and Delirium lead single "On My Mind" was a considerable success; word lingered of a longstanding crossover, from Britain's favorite little secret (and America's well-loved but inconspicuous electronic dance featured artist) to worldwide superstardom of unbelievable rank. Ultimately, where she stalled is at a strange corner that allows her to boast moderate mainstream success while continuing to headline music festivals around the world -- at Coachella's Friday night festivities this year, she was second-row billing.

Her music, in turn, was tickled by the thought of it all. Delirium found our Ellie, once just a girl with her acoustic guitar and a helping hand in production from Starsmith, clad in the shiniest Max Martin armor, geared up and ready to dominate. With all of this in mind, it was only natural for Goulding to dream big for this tour -- her first headlining arena tour in the States. She has thrown out most of the old material in favor of the new, sprinkled in some choreography and costume changes, and plastered her backdrop with wall-to-wall LCD screens, utilized for flashy video interludes of Ellie looking more badass than ever before. It's a show fit for a true queen.

And in the middle of it all stands our musical shero, Ellie Goulding. She's a changed woman from her earliest shows. In live renditions of her older material that has been cut from this tour's set (probably in part from performer's fatigue, after she had been touring her first two albums' material for what seemed like an eternity), she seemed restrained -- a bit timid, if you will -- but never unhappy or ungrateful. She played theaters and festivals in one outfit, without dancers or any pop show production pizzazz. She was just Ellie, playing some tunes and having a good time doing so.

In translation, not much has changed. In natural arena show form, it ran on a strict blueprint and left little time for personable chit-chat, minus some small talk about the temperature when the good ol' Lake Erie breeze started to blow through the venue. But she's still Ellie, still playing some tunes and still having a good time doing so, this time in a bit of a varied format; the show weaved between choreographed dance explosions, video interludes, and stripped-back acoustic bits. While her ultra-muscular back-up dancers bore the brunt of the choreographed workload, I'm glad to report that random spurs of energy (the bounces, the leaps, the twirls, the jumps -- everything we're used to from her) are still in her wheelhouse; they were the physical promises that she's still having a good time on stage, despite performing high-energy, upbeat songs inspired by Dougie Poynter, now her ex-boyfriend.

Some critics from big-name papers have slammed Goulding with not having the overbearing presence to command such an elaborate show. Maybe they have a point, but I'd argue it's because nothing about the Ellie we all have come to know and love has changed; she has yet to comprehend the magnitude of her success. Though she never formally addressed it, she was clearly taken back by an entire crowd that knew every word to deep album cuts like "Codes" and "Aftertaste" in addition to the radio hits (including "Lights," of course, which has been transferred to an acoustic ballad style for this concert run. "You guys here in the States know a song -- you know it quite well, actually -- that... if I played it back home, nobody would know it. That's what makes you guys awesome," she said before rolling into the song.)

So with all of this success talk, was this a sold-out tour run? Not quite. In fact, for my date of the tour in Cleveland, the show was quietly downgraded from Cleveland State University's Wolstein Center to the open-air Jacobs Pavilion amphitheater a few months before the show. But having such a large show compacted for a more intimate crowd was no problem; the stage lost only its large Ellie-laden curtains and all but one LCD screen. But I think I quite preferred it that way. In a bigger crowd, we fans would have been stuck in a crowd of people who only know the songs they've played on the radio and refer to her as "E-lee Gewlding." As the great Cher Horowitz once said, "as if!"

Even on the smaller stage, though, Goulding treated the show as if she were in an arena. She galloped from end to end to address every angle of that theater, cued some blasts of smoke at climaxes of her heaviest electronic collaborations, and disappeared at the close of the show in clouds of confetti. It was an affair meant to outdo, not merely match, the heights of Delirium as an album. All the while, her voice was not once compromised (after all, it was those angelic pipes that we really came to hear), proving that she really is the full package. For if a recording artist isn't built on a solid foundation -- the lyrics, the voice, the good intentions -- every other element of her artistry is dull, meaningless. But Ellie Goulding has a foundation -- a sturdy one, at that -- so the additional bombastic of this show did nothing but sparkle.

The Delirium World Tour runs through October 12. Tour stops will be made at Radio 1's Big Weekend, Lollapalooza, Glastonbury, and other music festivals.

Side note: Along for the ride was Bebe Rexha, who came prepared for the crowd she was given; she broke out a few old tracks (you know, prior to the recent Rita Ora 2.0 physical and sonic makeover), but won the crowd over twerking to a set packed with the hits she has written or been featured on. Additional supporting act Years & Years, well aware that they haven't broken through here like they have back home ("You guys probably don't know any of these songs, but you've been such a great crowd," Olly Alexander said towards the end of their set.), still pulled out all of the stops; Alexander had the pipes and the stage appeal to carry the act to success. Even those around me who initially referred to Rexha as "queen" and Years & Years as "who?" were, at the very least, toe-tapping by the end of the trio's upbeat set.

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