About a year ago, Lorde played her last headlining L.A. concerts, at the Fonda Theatre and the Belasco. After that, she played on the Grammys telecast and at the Coachella Valley Music & Arts Festival. At each of those shows, she seemed steely and reserved, inhabiting the frosty digital productions of her songs.
What a difference a year makes.
At the Greek Theatre on Monday, the young woman born Ella Yelich-O’Connor -- who started as a goth-inclined documentarian of teen malaise -- turned into a thrashing dervish onstage. There were costume changes, brilliant colors and bubbles of dry ice vapor that turned the front rows of the Greek into a foggy alien planet.
For a singer once tipped as an anti-star for the sad, jaded kids, Lorde’s now in control of all the techniques of real pop stardom. Her sold-out set (the first of two nights at the Greek) proves there are few other artists with that kind of promise -- to not just top the charts, but to transform them.
Her set started with a statement -- that she can hold a big stage on her own. Standing before a black curtain and lighted by a few white lights, she tucked into “Glory and Gore” with wild dance moves, flinging her wavy mane and punching the air.
Where once she tried to command a crowd with just an icy gaze, on Monday she conjured Stevie Nicks, Kate Bush and Robyn with her physical presence. And all before the curtain even revealed an ultra-minimal backing band and a few light fixtures.
Lorde is at a tricky spot in the album cycle with her platinum-selling 2013 LP “Pure Heroine.” Songs like “Royals” and “Team” have become pop radio staples, and given her sizable publishing deal and major role in the new “Hunger Games” soundtrack, the entire entertainment industry clearly has faith in her long-term prospects. But the album is a year old, and there’s not been too many new developments from her lately.
On this tour, she needed fans to discover her ambitiousness and the depth of her catalog. With this intense delivery, “Pure Heroine” had some untapped highs.
On “400 Lux,” she used the song’s hook of “I love these roads where the houses don’t change” as a mantra for the suburbs, rife with both disgust and strange affection for the boring town that made her become an artist. As she tossed around beneath big hits of blue and purple light, the chant took on new depth and meaning every time she said it. An older song, “Biting Down,” used a similar tactic to become something like a hymn with a cryptic phrase (“It feels better biting down”) that grew more menacing and enticing with each repetition.
Lorde’s voice had a fine, sinister low range on “Ribs,” which nods at club music but which keeps the tension building for the entire song. She still sounds best when her harmonies are processed to an uncanny edge. But the accomplishment of Monday’s performance was to take those feelings of Internet-era disconnection and make a show of it.
Some moves didn’t quite work (a mock-film-marquee billboard that appeared three-fourths of the way through the night felt a little trite), and she could have spent less time talking between songs -- the best way to thank an audience for coming out is to get right to the next hit.
But this tour’s achievement is that Lorde finally looks free onstage. She’s casting off the limits pop loves to put on young women and is making full use of her talents and energy and these wide new stages. “Team” was written as an ode to old friends, but when the confetti fell from the cannons, thousands of young women in the crowd felt like they were on Lorde’s.