“This song is about pirates,” Lorde sounds like she might conceivably be saying, although it’s impossible to tell. Certainly, the subsequent song, ‘Ribs’, is long on rattle beats and deep sea throbs but disappointingly short on rum-based shanty verses and treasure burying dance routines. “This is a strange song to sing in front of a lot of people because it’s about being very horny,” she admits, possibly, sitting on the front of the stage for Bowie-esque piano ballad ‘Liability’. Although it could easily have been “hairy”. Or “hungry”.
Yes, Lorde at All Points East suffers from the classic issues of the pop titan mistakenly side-lined onto a secondary stage. Headlining the North Arena, she battles the thumping rave beats from the open-air X Stage across the way and the fact that the lightest breeze whips any sound a mile away before it’s even left the speaker. So only a CIA lip-reader would have any idea what her earnest and heartfelt between-song banter consists of, and all the impact of subtle art-pop tunes like ‘Sober’ and ‘Homemade Dynamite’ is surrendered to the need for the residents of Old Ford Road not to be distracted from David Walliams saying yes to every contestant on BGT.
To a tape of Kate Bush’s ‘Running Up That Hill (A Deal With God)’ and surrounded by dancers recreating its video down to the grey yoga-wear and archer poses, Lorde skips on in a flowery frock and immediately hits the buffers. Her vocals are inaudible, besides the ones on backing track. A minute in, someone turns them up, but her bolshy dance gyrations might well include some angry gestures at the wings. Plying her way professionally through the Grease dance routine of her Disclosure collab ‘Magnets’, the skip-about hula tune ‘Buzzcut Season’ and a bit where her dancers lift her overhead during ‘The Louvre’ – rousing teen flick soundtrack fare rendered a faint wail by the puny PA – Lorde goes through the (uncertain) motions for the first half an hour. And her arrival onstage ten minutes late backfires when, the second she finishes finger-click anthem ‘Royals’, we witness The xx exodus as half her crowd head off to catch Wandsworth’s glorious gloomlords on the main stage.
It seems disrespectful to the stature of this Kiwi pioneer of poised pop – after all, South Park has yet to satirise The xx – but the close-up faithful that remain get the full Lorde wallop. Things had already begun to pick up on ‘Supercut’ when Lorde starts screaming passionately into the cameras and the beats from the X stage fortuitously synchronise with the song so that we finally stop feeling as though we’re trapped in some massive dance music washing machine on a slow spin. Then a bold and lively ‘Perfect Places’ finds the wind blowing the right way and the top pop sizzle of ‘Team’ hits home. And ‘Green Light’ is massive… presumably. We, um, had to leave to watch The xx. Soz.