All that glitters is Goulding: Ellie gives Beirut a night to remember
The girlish voice of U.K. pop singer Ellie Goulding cut over the thousands of wailing fans crammed into the Beirut International Exhibition & Leisure Center Wednesday night – apologizing for any weirdness as she headed into one of the last songs on her set list. “I get hyper and crazy and things get weird,” she said. “Let’s bring out my moves for this one. But you can’t really call them moves they’re just stuff I do: involuntary spasms.”
Her quips were obscured by a crowd raucous with anticipation.
Best known for radio hits like “Anything Could Happen,” “Lights” and, most recently, “Burn,” Goulding melds folky, sometimes dark lyrics with pop tunes, a style the music world has dubbed “folktronic.”
Her unusual voice, an almost childlike variation of Melissa Etheridge, but with an English accent – she’s from Herefordshire – has provoked both mainstream rappers and electronica artists to sample her work.
On this occasion though, she was free of the synthesizers, wobble basses and other sound-sculpting crap that DJs often use in songs featuring her voice, so that her rough, soulful soprano took center stage and offered a spine-tingling 90-minute performance.
Her unusual sound is also informed by contrasting influences like Beyoncé and Björk, she told MIX FM on air, in her only interview with local media. “I couldn’t decide whether I wanted to be a folk singer,” she said a few hours before her performance, “or, you know, a big pop star.”
Because of her popular electro collaborations, Goulding is a mainstay at music festivals, which the artist said are far less personal than solo concerts like her BIEL gig.
“When you play at a festival, you’re not necessarily playing for people who’ve come to see you,” she said on air Wednesday. “So you’re kind of on a mission to win people over. Whereas at my own shows, you know, I just want to give my fans the best time I can give them.”
For her Beirut fans, Goulding belted out a 19-song set, starting with upbeat tunes like “Figure 8” at the top and toning down a long middle section with a selection of love ballads. The range offered her a chance to showcase her other musical talents, mainly banging on drums. She also played the acoustic guitar accompaniment to “Guns and Horses,” a sentimental song about heartbreak.
Beyond the ballads, Goulding was a blonde ball of energy. Dressed in a back crop-top, combat boots and loose Sherwal trousers – did she do it on purpose? – she sambaed and headbanged back and forth across the stage.
In a moment’s break from singing, Goulding dedicated “Starry Eyed” to the audience – an acknowledgement, perhaps, of the very young crowd of teens. Some were so young, parents could be seen listening half-heartedly or completely consumed by a game of “Candy Crush.”
One of the night’s highlights was undoubtedly Goulding’s cover of Elton John’s 1970 classic “Your Song,” at which parents, kids and everyone in between perked up and sang along.
She also sang a hair-raising rendition of “Explosions,” a song about an abusive relationship, accompanied by sinister LED projections.
“You guys are making me awfully happy and smiley tonight,” she said in between songs. “I wish all crowds were like you guys.”
That might be debatable. If there was any drawback to Wednesday’s show, it wasn’t any fault to the singer or her band. As is more often the case at big-name shows in Beirut, the audience seemed to have turned out for only the handful of hits that carried the artist to stardom.
For the most part, general knowledge of her discography appeared to be shallow at best and the usual out-of-sync hum of audience accompaniment was completely absent for most of Goulding’s performance.
Audience innocence was at its worst when she sang “Tessellate / Life Round Here,” as a handful of drunk, teenage girls had to be shut up from their howls of “change the song!”
Sadly, Goulding seemed to know her audience better than they knew her, as she left the three most-anticipated hits for the last of her set, even offering a second encore of “Burn.”
That’s not to say people in Lebanon don’t love their Goulding. Two years ago at a fashion event in Faqra, organizers were apparently so enraptured with the vocalist that they played “Anything Could Happen” on repeat for the full 20 minutes of the runway show. Then they played it again through the after-party reception.
Needless to say, when that tune came on at the tail end of the concert, Goulding’s crowd was one jumping, screaming mass.