Lorde remembers her first Portland show well.
It was a little over four years ago, at Crystal Ballroom. Returning to headline Moda Center on March 10, the 21-year-old pop prodigy recalled the details—how she was forced to perform in the mid-afternoon, how Vampire Weekend played after her, and especially, how much smaller the crowd was then.
But while last year's Melodrama may have bumped her up a touring weight class as far as touring goes, she assured fans her fundamental nature as as performer hasn't changed.
"My thing is to speak to people in a giant room like I'm just sitting down and having dinner with them," she said.
Indeed, in comparison to the dizzying spectacles that have hit town recently, the New Zealand-born singer's first stab at an arena show resembled a one-woman theater production. Her only major set piece was a glass box resembling a see-through shipping container, which alternately levitated and sunk into the floor, and her artful dancers registered as wisps.
The spareness befit her music: Hits like "Tennis Courts" and "Royals" make better use of empty space than anything on radio, buzzing and snapping into the void. Similarly, as a vocalist, Lorde's strength is her directness—the most stunning moment of the night might have been her piano-accompanied cover of Frank Ocean's "Solo," and it came off less like a vocal workout than a dramatic journal reading.
That doesn't mean she's incapable of huge moments: The sing-along to "Perfect Places" was massive, and "Green Light," which closed the set, is exhilarating in a way few pop singles ever are. The only difference is that, unlike many of her contemporaries, she's bold enough to let those moments speak for themselves.
All photos by Abby Gordon.