Today’s biggest pop songs inhabit tiny spaces. They trickle from earbuds. They flicker in YouTube windows. So hearing one in a cavernous concert hall — where the bass is shaking the air and bodies are pushing around in the darkness — can feel like a liberation.
Like when New Zealand teen phenom Lorde finally sang “Royals” near the close of her gig Friday night at Echostage, an airplane hanger of a nightclub off Bladensburg Road NE. In the past year, her career-making hit had navigated the improbable route from YouTube curiosity, to the winner’s circle at January’s Grammy Awards, to here.
“We crave a different kind of buzz,” she sang during the refrain, bathed in purple light, whipping her hair and hands around in quick bursts, clearly not feeling the weight of the generation she has been asked to carry on her shoulders.
Her real name is Ella Yelich-O’Connor and she won’t turn 18 until November, but her debut, “Pure Heroine,” has been championed as a pop album wise beyond its years. As her young fans sent “Royals” up the charts, the rest of the world seemed to freak over the singer’s precociousness.
And then they gave up and sang along. Because isn’t everyone’s adolescence a tangle of wild curiosity, vivid emotions and ferocious opinions?
The only thing that makes Lorde different from anyone else her age is her ability to straighten those knotted feelings into articulate, evocative, radio-colonizing pop hits. Her lyric sheet is filled with common teenage concerns: the body, the future, mobility, boredom, isolation, ambition, dreams. She also knows how to make her verses shimmer with a gothy and strangely inviting glamour.
Isolation and ambition frequently went hand-in-hand at Echostage on Friday, especially during “Tennis Court,” a song about the loneliness and claustrophobia of an adolescence spent “never not chasing the million things I want.” It was the first big singalong of the night and one of the liveliest moments in a surprisingly propulsive 14-song set.
Even when things slowed, she refused to forfeit her poise. “I’m little, but I’m coming for the crown,” she sang over the vaporous synthesizers of “Still Sane,” her torchy mumble elegantly framed by keyboardist Jimmy Mac and drummer Ben Barter. The backing duo’s minimal setup was highly efficient and not dissimilar to that of James Blake, the experimental R&B singer to whom Lorde has pledged her fandom.
The girl has smart taste.
Based on the T-shirt she recently wore on the cover of Rolling Stone, she’s a fan of American rock weirdos the Cramps.
In another interview, she tipped her hat to Washington punk icons Fugazi. And while she didn’t cover “Waiting Room” on Friday night, she did transpose the breezy jangles of the Replacements’ “Swingin’ Party” into a church hymn.
On YouTube, it’s Lorde’s songs that are being covered by fans around the world — including Bruce Springsteen, who, at a recent concert in New Zealand, sang “Royals” as a sequence of everyman grunts.
She didn’t mention the Boss’s cover onstage, though. Instead, she basked in that different kind of buzz as it blasted across a very big room.