Several trusting mothers waved soggy goodbyes to their many daughters yesterday evening at Chicago’s Aragon Ballroom. As a flood warning scattered across Cook County, the young, sold out crowd sought refuge inside, where they’d soon shake off the rain and muck to UK pop icon Ellie Goulding. This would happen around eight ‘o clock, which is what makes all ages shows so great for aging twentysomethings that want to still have time to plug into Netflix before midnight.
(Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I’ve nearly watched all five seasons of Friday Night Lights but the series finale. I have thought long and hard about what happens to Matt Saracen and Julie Taylor. I seek full redemption tonight, oh Lord.)
New York’s St. Lucia has tagged along for the stateside leg of Goulding’s Halycon Tour. This is a good thing: Mastermind Jean-Philip Grobler, who originally hails from South Africa, has rebuilt a transmission run on lost parts of The Police, OMD, Lionel Richie, and, yes, Berlin. The fabulous twist is that it doesn’t ever feel like a throwback sound. Similar to fellow neighbors Tanlines, there’s a whiff of modernity that’s more or less the aural equivalent to “new car smell.” On stage, Grobler is admittedly stoic — tied to his instruments and that choir-bred vocal of his — but even so, he was bold enough to ask for more than three clap-alongs. And while he doesn’t have the songs yet for a place like Aragon Ballroom, they’d for sure turn Lincoln Hall into a coke den within milliseconds.
“This is one of the sickest venues I’ve ever played,” Goulding beamed in that oh-so-cute-English-accent-of-hers. Given that she once performed for Prince William and Kate Middleton at their royal wedding ceremony (OMG THERE WERE PROBABLY CORGIS THERE!), Chicago’s Jam Productions ought to take that as a very nice compliment. Needless to say, Goulding appeared thrilled, almost jubilant, to be there and it benefited the music. Halcyon opener “Don’t Say a Word” set the pace for the next 25 minutes, where similar gym jams like the album’s title track, “Figure 8″, Lights cut “Salt Skin”, and “Hanging On” set the fiery youngsters ablaze. The singer fiddled around with her rather unnecessary percussion kit — hey, it keeps things looking DIY, right? — but when she let the music pummel her around, that’s when the gig sparkled.
Surrounded by reliable stage hands, her band’s hip enough that folks like Frank Ocean ought to take note. They really put some energy into each cut, especially thunderous jams like “Only You”, “Animal”, or “Under the Sheets”. It’s a shame they weren’t present during “Guns and Horses”, which Goulding has stripped down to an acoustic ballad. It’s tender, sweet, sugary, whatever most acoustic songs become, but it lacks any of the punch that made the Lights track so addicting originally. It was also roped into a sluggish middle that started with the spacey “Explosions”, the bittersweet “I Know You Care”, and that Elton John cover of “Your Song”. It can’t all be borderline EDM drops, but some spacing out would have sufficed.
Though, in hindsight, it’s probably best those ballads shared similar real estate on the setlist. After all, Goulding lined up several sticks of dynamite hits to shut down the night; from “Anything Could Happen” to “Starry Eyed” to “I Need Your Love” to “Lights”. Things got sweaty, the evening turned dancey, and all those breathless youths burned through their Capri-Sun-insulin — especially amidst the dubstep remix tailored in at the end of “Lights”. Yet so did Goulding, who writhed around in a way that likely conjured up many, many thanks from the boyfriends of those aforementioned girls.
Wrap it up, Mike: Basically, Goulding’s brand of arena dancefloor pop is best experienced live. Do it.
(Clear eyes, full hearts, yada, yada, yada — anything could happen.)
Photography by Heather Kaplan.
Don’t Say a Word
Guns And Horses
I Know You Care
Your Song (Elton John cover)
Under The Sheets
Anything Could Happen
Without Your Love
I Need Your Love