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Review: Lorde brings ‘Melodrama’ — and perhaps some vindication — to a packed Staples Center

Lorde
Lorde performs Wednesday night at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Pop Music Critic

Holy cow, Lorde said in more colorful language, “there are a lot of people here tonight!”

Standing onstage at Staples Center, the young pop singer was surveying the crowd gathered to take in Wednesday’s stop on her world tour behind last year’s “Melodrama” album.

If her choice of expletive suggested surprise, though, Lorde’s true emotion might’ve been closer to relief.

Recent reports from the road have described arenas with thousands of empty seats — the unhappy result, it seemed, of a record that was warmly reviewed but hasn’t notched huge sales or spun off hit singles to match those from Lorde’s triple-platinum 2013 debut.

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At the Grammy Awards in January, “Melodrama” was nominated for album of the year but lost to Bruno Mars’ “24K Magic.” And to make matters worse, Lorde didn’t even get to perform on the telecast.

Yet those disappointments felt far off Wednesday as the singer played to a nearly full house of very excited fans, many of whom looked to be around Lorde’s age of 21.

Here she elicited screams with a relatively deep cut (“Magnets” by Disclosure, on which she’s a featured guest) and set the room bouncing with the throbbing chorus of “Green Light.”

The exuberant reaction was a “big deal for this little kid from New Zealand,” she said, and in her remark you could hear real gratitude — and perhaps a bit of vindication.

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Obviously some audiences would rather see Lorde perform than see Sting do his thing three times (as happened at the Grammys).

For all it did to restore Lorde’s star power, what was striking about Wednesday’s concert was the sense of intimacy the singer was able to put across in such an expansive space.

As its title promises, “Melodrama” is all about moments of precise emotion — someone scrolling wistfully through photos in the immediate aftermath of a breakup, for instance — scaled up to pop-anthem proportions.

That’s a speciality of Lorde’s trusted co-producer, Jack Antonoff, who she said was at Staples; he’s an expert at evoking the feeling of being overwhelmed. (What Antonoff is less skilled at, or maybe less interested in, are melodies that easily stick, which is probably one reason “Melodrama’s” singles haven’t taken off on Top 40 radio like Lorde’s earlier “Royals” or “Team” did.)

In person, though, Lorde seemed determined to remind us that those super-sized emotions spring from an individual. The performance was built around her presence, with only occasional assists from a small crew of dancers and a backing band placed unobtrusively at the rear of the stage.

A clear-walled box resembling a shipping container was suspended over her, and for “Green Light” the dancers climbed up rope ladders to get inside and throw themselves around as Lorde sang — a nifty development of a sophisticated visual the singer has been working on since her set at Coachella in 2017.

But Lorde used the box most memorably as a kind of transparent dressing room.

Before “The Louvre,” she stepped inside and took off her pants to change into a flowing black gown, as though she were allowing her fans into her private world; that the act had been carefully rehearsed didn’t make it any less startling.

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Indeed, the strongest part of the show was a sequence midway through in which Lorde, singing beautifully, was accompanied only by a keyboardist for three stripped-down ballads: “Writer in the Dark,” “Liability” and a tender rendition of Frank Ocean’s “Solo,” which she described as a big influence on “Melodrama.”

Each song, she said, was about being alone; she even recalled working on “Writer in the Dark” in a little room at Conway Recording Studios on Melrose Avenue.

“And look at us now!” she added with a laugh. She was addressing Antonoff but clearly wanted the rest of us to hear.

mikael.wood@latimes.com

Twitter: @mikaelwood


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