all words: Marcus Dowling
all photos: Shannon Yazurlo
Ellie Goulding is entirely prepared to conquer Britain in full. She’s already a beloved daughter of the United Kingdom, her effervescent charm and relaxed confidence in her unique material for this generation easily creating her a pop fanbase inclusive of all realms of an entire nation. However, in lieu of resting on her laurels prior to her coronation as Britain’s queen, Goulding is making a go at success in the United States. This attempt started with the first date of her first significant touring foray on American soil at a sold out Rock and Roll Hotel on Tuesday evening.
Goulding’s brand of pop takes on a multitude of forms, each more stunningly heartfelt and mainstream then the first. Her American debut album, Bright Lights, was played in its entirety in concert as Goulding, backed by a tight and extremely familiar with the material live band buoyed by recorded tracks left an appreciative crowd in stunned yet appreciative awe. Goulding’s US appeal is a mix of the expected love from UK checking indie kids, diva hungry pop disciples, and for those in love with remixes, dubstep fanatics blown away with the lilting delivery of her vocals on major hit “Starry Eyed” as remixed by UK don Jakwob. The most exciting feature of the show was watching a crowd awed by watching a vocal, video and photographic diva take human form and bless them with her voice.
Openers The Knocks set the table perfectly. The giant sized talents of New York based electro production duo scored early touchdowns with the DC crowd with a hilariously fun, apropos and populist leaning set. In being openers for the buzz act du jour, you’re walking into a scenario where nobody probably knows your work, and it’s quite likely that nobody really wants to as well.
However, they delivered a bass heavy, percussive and live remix driven performance (yes, this was the realm of Usher’s “OMG” and Major Lazer Lazer’s “Pon de Floor” mashups) punctuated with calls to “give us your energy,” “wave your hands in the air,” and their original, hottest track on Hype Machine at the moment “Dancing With the DJ.” The Knocks were simply awesome, exciting and a positive addition to the event, leaving the crowd hankering for more.
Goulding’s big hits “Under the Sheets, closer “Starry Eyed” and album title track “Lights” all slayed. Many have questioned Goulding’s staying power in the US. Florence and the Machine’s US success is due to Florence Welch’s encompassing and brassy vocals, whereas Ellie Goulding’s voice is razor thin, floats on a slipstream, and is dependent upon expressive productions to drive it home. In the live realm, Goulding is just so darned cute that the lack of acoustic texture of her voice is excused. You sit eager and intrigued in the crowd, patiently waiting on every word, connecting to Ellie the lovelorn young woman instead of Ellie the voice. It’s in that standout quality that makes her a winner.
The highlights of her performance were twofold. Ending a track with a drum pad solo to Kanye West’s “Power” that engaged the crowd in a call and response to the gospel choir vocal was an unexpected yet inspired moment. However, the real take away moment in her performance was as expected her cover of Elton John’s “Your Song.” It’s a tailor made track for US audiences, as her crowd stateside trends pop and gay, two demographics well acquainted with and beloved of the British legend, and in covering one of his most emotive performances, really cemented herself through the legendary cosign as a talent with which to be reckoned.