Lorde finally made her first visit to Miami last night at the AmericanAirlines Arena, in an appearance she described to an impassioned audience as five years in the making. Supported by two costume changes, six contemporary dancers, and a mix of live and recorded tracks, the experience captured the contradictions of Lorde’s music: It was somehow both grandiose and stripped-down, confident and vulnerable, complex and approachable. I went into the show as a casual fan, and left it awestruck by Lorde’s talent as an arranger, songwriter and performer.
Truth be told, I was more enticed by the opportunity to see opening act Mitski for the first time. The singer-songwriter, whose two most recent albums have been in my constant rotation for years, toured at Gramps last year, and I couldn’t swing the 11 p.m. start time.
But I felt somewhat cheated after the 20-minute Mitski tapas that opened Lorde’s show last night. Her band sound sludgy and bass-smothered, her vocals muffled; it took about three songs—a third of her set—for the sound mix to settle into a proper balance. It didn’t help that her four-piece played on a giant stage to a three-quarters-empty arena of mostly indifferent concertgoers, with the exception of a small but vocal pocket of die-hards. She needs a smaller, attentive venue for the anger, nakedness and disquiet of her songs to translate properly. The spitting protest of “Drunk Walk Home”—“F–k you and your money”—briefly excited the under-attended crowd, but as a send-off to her set, it was anticlimactic.
This eclectic bill was followed by rap duo Run the Jewels, which I’ve never been able to appreciate despite the torrent of hipster cred. Its set was punishingly loud, encompassing the worst sound I’ve encountered at AmericanAirlines Arena; unless you knew the songs going in, you wouldn’t be able to make out a single lyric. Between songs, Killer Mike expressed rousing, positive messages of love and inclusivity, and was responsible for one of the night’s most moving moments. He asked us to shine cell-phone lights in support of young people who have considered suicide, and the result resembled a trippy skyline of dancing stars.
Thankfully, no sound issues marred Lorde’s set, which sounded as sleek and pristine as diamonds on a timepiece. Swathed in midnight blue lighting during opening number “Sober,” she emerged behind a phalanx of dancers to the ambient thrill of Beatlemania-level screams.
She would spend the next hour and a half feeding off her base’s energy, and vice versa. Though she would eventually exclaim, “I might not be here for another five years—give me the f**king applause I deserve!”—this typically fervent Miami audience was never short of enthusiasm. Lorde, too, expressed appreciation for South Florida, praising our beaches and adding, “this is such a gorgeous part of the world. You’re very lucky.”
Part of Lorde’s Melodrama tour—she played the critically acclaimed album in its entirety—the show was not shy of theatrics. A see-thru rectangle ascended from the floor during “Buzzcut Season,” inside of which white-clad dancers contorted and frolicked. (The multipurpose box also provided the singer with semi-privacy to slip into one of her costume changes.) During the massive audience favorite “Yellow Flicker Beat,” the cube rose toward the ceiling, suspended in the air and tilting precariously this way and that, a lone dancer battling gravity inside. Sensitive viewers could get airsick just watching it. By the time she got around to “Sober II,” all six dancers were writhing inside the dangling box.
Yet despite this and other competing stimuli—like the video clips projected behind the stage in paneled fragments—it was hard to take your eyes off Lorde, a born performer who came off as magnetic, earthy and genuine, fully aware that she was connecting with her audience on a deeper level than pop music. The fragility and beauty of her music was most effective during the stripped-down portion of the show, with a trio of songs—“Writer in the Dark,” “Liability” and a cover of Frank Ocean’s “Solo—performed while sitting on a raised platform onstage, in front of a cluster of neon light sabers arrayed behind her like strewn Pick-up Sticks.
During the extended encore of “Team,” she climbed down the stairs and embraced tearful fans in the front row, who peppered her with kisses, hugs and emotional conversation. It was the kind of barrier-breaking communion between artist and fan that is rarely seen, and which is more important than interpretive dancers or dangling boxes. For the lucky few with those ultra-luxe tickets, it was the memory of a lifetime.