Ellie Goulding, Conway Bayou Music Center March 24, 2014
When it comes to musical artists, labels are a tricky thing. Critics and fans like them because they help slot performers into easily recognizable tropes, shorthand we can use to explain someone without really explaining them. They're not necessarily lazy, but they're often silly.
There are those out there that love to link Ellie Goulding with the world of EDM; sometimes it's the Queen of EDM, sometimes it's the more humble Voice of EDM. This isn't unreasonable, mind you, but it is kind of silly. Yes, there is the awesome Bassnectar remix of "Lights" and, yes, she did do that song with Calvin Harris, but she's more than just a pretty voice that sounds good to a beat.
To slot her in one genre does a real disservice to her talents, especially once you've seen her live.
To watch an Ellie Goulding performance is to be swept up in a variety of styles, a variety of sights, and a variety of emotions. It's the type of thing that most modern pop performers aim for and miss wildly.
The show started off with a roar, with "Figure 8" being transformed from a moody set of electronics on the album to a rocker heavy enough to get the few dudes in leather jackets in the crowd moving their head up and down in approval. The entire first act of the set was high-energy, amped-up versions of her songs with an edge, but still felt organic. She's also got the hair-swinging rock star moves down.
Then things get taken down a notch. She pulled out a guitar for "Guns and Horses" and you remember that for all the bombast of the first part of her set, and the beats of the songs she's been featured on, her roots are writing songs on the guitar. Her most powerful weapon is always her voice, and the more stripped-down versions of her songs, as well as her delightful cover of Elton John's "Your Song," are a reminder of that.
But lest things get too sappy, the back half of the show gave fans the dance party many of them seemed to have paid for. Onstage Goulding dances like no one is watching, and so did most of the crowd that had room to. It's charming in that Manic Pixie Dream Girl sort of way.
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Goulding could do any number of things with her career if she were so inclined. She and her band could write a bunch of barnstormers like "Stay Awake" or songs that pull at the heartstrings like "Explosions." They could get real minimal like in "Tessellate" or all majestic such as in "My Blood." It's that versatility that make seeing her so interesting, even if you think she's just going to be the Voice to the Beat or the English Pixie.
And that's good. It's nice to be reminded why labels can be so silly.
Personal Bias: I heard "Every Time You Go" while riding in the back of a friend's car a few years back and I've been a fan ever since.
The Crowd: I don't mean to offend anyone, but this may be the shortest crowd I've ever seen at BMC. It was kind of nice not to have to stand on my tip-toes for a change.
Overheard In the Crowd: "You're a dumbbell," said one friend to another, jokingly annoyed. Goulding's fans have the nicest insults.
Random Notebook Dump: How much time to background singers spend practicing their dance moves? How big is that playbook? 50 moves? 100? What makes one song worth a fist-raise and another simply arms rocking back and forth?
So, How Was the Opener: Three observations on Conway:
I think she's got a solid career ahead of her. If enough people hear her music, she's got just the right attitude to develop a fan base.
She, at times, looks and sounds like an alternate-universe version of Amanda Palmer who never discovered the piano or Internet.
She dresses like a late-'70s comic-book character. All she needs is a longer belt to be full Phoenix.
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