It's just past midnight out in the Wild West of Joshua Tree. While Radiohead have been wrangling with sound issues all night at Coachella, a fresh line of palpably amped fans are queued up outside remote saloon bar Pappy & Harriets eagerly awaiting the return of Lorde.
On Thursday (April 13) she teased that there'd be a 5 p.m. announcement the next day for "Southern California" and to keep the night free. Ending the tweet with an emoji of a cactus was perhaps a giveaway for an impromptu pre-Coachella set gig at this legendary 240 capacity barroom.
December 2014 was the last time Lorde performed live (aside from her recent SNL appearance, of course). The world has been baited for her return, and so far spoiled by the oppositional offerings of club ready 'Green Light' and beauteous ballad 'Liability'. Tonight she emerges at a quarter past midnight after the remaining bars of Kate Bush's 'Running Up That Hill' end. You don't get the impression Lorde considers herself to be picking up any such precocious batons, but you can sense the lineage here between one all-time great performer and another rising future superstar.
Tonight Lorde (real name Ella Yellich O'Connor) sparks up conversation with the crowd, enticing us into a Q&A session. "What have you been doing the past two years?" asks one fan. "Well I bought a house in New Zealand and I don't garden yet but I've been cooking, baking, going to the beach." Another asks, "Did you make a song with Kanye?" to which she responded, "Not yet!"
Soon it's enough with the chit-chat and the focus is on creating a vibe, a movement, a love-in.
"I didn't realize that my dancing was questionable until I became a pop star," she jokes. "I want you to dance like you're alone in your bedroom and you don't give a f--k. Are you in?"
As we follow suit, it strikes you that such claustrophobic intimacy will rarely be possible between Lorde and her fans during the next few years of touring her forthcoming second album 'Melodrama', the follow-up to 2013's Pure Heroine. The only other time I've experienced this closeness was at her first-ever London show at the teeny Madame Jojo's. How far the now 20 year-old has come to fulfill all her promises, to realize her mammoth visions for pop on a far greater stage and scale.
The set here lasts just over an hour. Beginning with a short hint at 'Green Light', it's largely more a reprise of former Lorde classics and her Disclosure duet 'Magnets'. It ends with a full-on walloping 'Green Light' to bring the gig full circle. Spoiler alert: 'Green Light' is going to work very well in spaces ten times this size.
No doubt much to the internet's future hysteria she also drops a new track. For the few moments here between us, it's our little secret.
Got quite close to Lorde. Her first show in two and a half years.
A post shared by Eve Barlow (@evebarlow) on Apr 15, 2017 at 1:36am PDT
"I feel like the nice thing about a night like this is there's so few of us we can do whatever we want," she says teasing. "So I wanna try something that no one knows about yet. I wanna play you something from the new record. It's kind of like one of my favorite things I think I've done. It's a two part song but they're very different. They're what the core of this album is about." A fan shouts out a track name -- 'Sober!' Lorde smiles. "F--k, you guessed it! I really need you with me for this," she says, then asks for the house lights to be darker.
'Sober' is a sister track to 'Green Light', all syncopated beats, with a warped melodically non-obvious build. "My hips have missed your hips," she sings, jumping around the stage in an almost translucent dress, grabbing one of the stage's beams and swinging around it. With lyrics about losing her mind, feverish dreams and being "f--ked up," it climaxes with the question "what will we do when we're sober?" alongside pulsating club beats, inviting the listener to dance too.
"I'm psycho high," she sings. "The lights are on and they've gone home but who am I?" As the song shifts into another movement filled with strings and piano she namechecks the album title: "Our only wish is melodrama." The audience screams.
"Wow," she responds as it ends and seemingly gets a stamp of approval. "Cool."
It's really heartwarming to watch Lorde engage with such easy confidence tonight. The biggest growth might be her level of comfort with her crowd. She's chatty, warm and grateful to be back among like-minded music fans.
She plays her favorites including the still undeniable 'Buzzcut Season', 'Royals' (which receives a rapturous sing-along) and 'Ribs', which she seems to suggest acts like a bridge between these two albums. "It's an old party," she says. "But the new record is very much about a party as well so this song feels new in a way." As she sings the lyric, "I've never felt more alone/Feels so scary getting old" in the faces of her adopted followers you can appreciate how revisiting that premature anxiety could be a comfort to her now, as she prepares to forge ahead once more.
At the same time you're reminded of her stark naivety and infectious wonderment as she calls out to the entire Yellich O'Connor family standing at the back of the room. "I love that so many of you made the drive out here," she giggles. "I've been getting ready for Coachella but I feel like this is the fun show. I got my eyebrows done today and a pedicure because my toenails were getting to the front of my sneakers."
Juxtapose that goofiness with the truly sincere 'Liability' and it's hard not to get carried away with excitement for what's about to transpire for Lorde. "This is my little ghost song," she explains. "I feel like a little ghost with this one." She recalls going on a massive walk in New Zealand and being sad and stressed. She tells the story like she's narrating her own Jane Austen novel. "I walked until I couldn't walk anymore. I caught a cab and that wonderful Rihanna record [Anti] had just come out. I put on 'Higher' and I was doing that type of crying that you don't want the cab driver to hear. My face was right on the glass."
"It's hard when you're 20 years-old," she concludes with a radiant chagrin. The struggles look to have paid off.