Ellie Goulding / Photo: Clayton Taylor Photography
We are meant to understand there are two sides to Ellie Goulding. We see this, and she tells us this, if we are listening.
Before the British musician stepped onto the stage Friday (May 20) at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers, still images splashed up on the massive video board that would serve as the backdrop to her concert. Half of them showed her dressed in black, almost scowling. The second half featured her in white, almost flawless.
During the course of the hour and 45 minute concert that followed those images, she was alternately both in the way her songs were unveiled and her elaborate costumes. Earlier this week, several articles about her struggles with anxiety and crippling panic attacks hit national publications. She’s recently opened up about those issues, and she was candid with the packed house for her concert in Rogers.
She turned her back to the crowd early in the night while still speaking into the microphone.
“I didn’t expect so many of you to be here,” she told the screaming masses. “Sometimes, when I get so much love, I get shy. That’s how I am right now.”
The next song queued up, the concert went on, and so did the adulations from the crowd.
Next at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion
Who: Journey and The Doobie Brothers
When: 7 p.m. May 31
Where: Arkansas Music Pavilion, Rogers
Cost: Starting at $35
Tickets: Sold out. Call 479-443-5600 or visit arkansasmusicpavilion.com for information.
She was a big-voiced pop diva. She was a shy songwriter. She wanted us to know it’s okay to be any variant of those at any time. She was light and dark, black and white, bold and demure. Or, in other words, human.
Goulding made quite the contrast to a concert at the same venue the night before. That event was Jason Aldean’s “Six String Circus” tour, which also featured Thomas Rhett and A Thousand Horses (Read our review here).
Thursday night’s proceedings were full of back road machismo. Goulding, meanwhile, was a lesson in vulnerability. She offered her song “Don’t Panic.” She also dedicated a song to her best friend, which she told the audience she wrote after realizing all of her songs were about romantic love, not platonic love. She told the crowd when a song was about failed love, and when it was about love realized.
She could turn the switches on and off. Her opening number featured four dancers – five, counting her – heavy choreography and vast quantities of flashing lights. Thirty minutes later, she opted to sing the song “Devotion” solo while playing an acoustic guitar. From gigantic production numbers to a coffee shop moment, she did what she wanted, when she wanted.
Her “Delirium” tour is meant to be a huge spectacle, by the way. This is an arena-ready show, and some of her later destinations for this run of U.S. dates proves that. She’ll be in the famed Madison Square Garden in New York City, the Bell Centre in Montreal, the Toyota Center in Houston and the American Airlines Arena in Miami, Florida. But she’s also playing a few larger outdoor amphitheaters and festivals as well, including mega-festival Bonnaroo in a few weeks.
AMP officials have always said the stage there was constructed with large-scale shows in mind. We’ve rarely had more compelling proof of that than Goulding’s production, which featured four wildly dressed dancers, confetti cannons and a number of costume changes. They needed room to move, room to hang things high in the air and room for a multi-level stage platform. They had it all.
As it often is with this scale of production, the show was as much art project as it was musical experience. One particularly striking sequence saw Goulding wearing a futuristic dress and video filters projected altered images of her on the large screens. It framed her body and face in lines, perhaps a nod to EDM act Disclosure.
Production can only get you so far, however, and Goulding certainly has a voice. It’s not as room-shaking as her Brit-pop, power-singing contemporary Adele, but Goulding reaches high notes with ease. I very rarely had an issue discerning her lyrics, which meant she had great diction and clarity. That wasn’t always the case Thursday night during the “Six String Circus.” That either meant there was a better sound mix or a better pure vocalist on stage. I’ll let you guess what my theory is.
If there are indeed two Ellie Gouldings, it might also mean there’s a bad and a good one. I would argue that on Friday night, we saw a good one.
A note about the opener
In all my years of covering concerts, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen less attention paid to an opener as I did on Friday night. The Knocks, a two-piece EDM with live instruments act from New York City, had the duties. The band was so nonchalant during the opening sequence that the audience responded in kind. I guess. It was unsettling to watch the crowd play with their phones and ignore the opener, but that’s what happened last night.