Ellie Goulding Got Theatrical in Phoenix Last Weekend

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Even the most casual radio listener could sing along with a chorus or two during an Ellie Goulding show.

The hit-filled set switched gears faster than you could say “Goodness Gracious” to show off Goulding’s skill in carrying out completely different genres and to remind everyone exactly how she has stayed relevant for the past five years.

The British pop star was given a raucous welcome as the packed theater whooped and cheered, and she loved it, saying she loves Americans for not being reserved like the fans in her native United Kingdom.

Over the course of 21 tracks, mostly from 2012’s Halcyon and last year’s Delirium, Goulding proved she can drum, she can rock out on the guitar, and she can work a packed theater to make it feel intimate. She can’t dance, but not for lack of effort. The concentration on her face showed dedication to the routines, so props for the attempt. To counterbalance, Goulding made use of her team of dancers, who wielded various props (like the bedazzled baseball bats, a personal favorite) and rounded out the various aesthetics throughout the set. The shining moment was when, during one costume change, two of the men enacted a tumbling routine that was part dance and part incredible lifting, but mostly a whole lot of muscle.

Goulding carefully created each mood as if it were a scene in a theatrical performance, and this makes perfect sense as a former drama student at University of Kent. Costumes, dancers, video screen backdrops, and lights turned Goulding into different characters, true to her music’s varying styles. She favored geometric designs, with four-sided video screens in unique shapes and prisms to reflect the colored lights. And she took us from futuristic samurai to romantic to raver to rebel rocker chick all in the span of an hour and a half, but the transitions were as carefully planned as the scenes in between.

Surprisingly, her breakout hit, “Lights,” came halfway through the set, stripped down to its vocals and piano. It’s not often that Ellie Goulding comes to mind when thinking of lullabies, but this acoustic version came close, delivered softly and while wearing a long, flowing white dress. This was the time she also played “Devotion,” her own “straight-out love song for somebody,” before donning a black-and-neon onesie to kick-start the mini rave. 
She moved with poise and with purpose, immersed in her music and wanting the audience to feel the same way. Arguably her best bout of banter with the crowd was her encouragement to put away the phones for the closer, “Burn,” and simply be in the moment. Did everyone listen? Of course not, but there were more hands than screens in the air, which is rare in 2016.

At the end of her set, Ellie Goulding left us with two things. The first was shiny confetti shot out of two side stage cannons after encore “Love Me Like You Do.” And the second was a commandment:

“Is it Saturday? It is Saturday, isn’t it? Yeah. Go out.”
Critic’s Notebook

Last night: Bebe Rexha, Years & Years, and Ellie Goulding at Comerica Theatre.

The Crowd: Couples in their 30s and 40s, all standing the in the same position of man behind women with his arms wrapped around her. Groups of women having a “girls’ night out.” People of all ages who refused to put their phones away, even when Goulding asked nicely.

Heard in the pit: “I can tell who was dragged here and who’s a dad.” “Oh, she’s going Game of Thrones style!”

The backup singers: Unreasonably chipper with their matching half-top-knots.

The rave-like portion of the set: Was I at an Ellie Goulding show or briefly living in the Tron universe?
“Holding on for Life”
“Goodness Gracious”
“Something in the Way You Move”
“Keep on Dancin’”
“Don’t Need Nobody”
“Lights” (Acoustic)
“Lost and Found”
“Figure 8”
“On My Mind”
“ Don’t Panic”
“We Can’t Move to This”
“I Need Your Love”
“Anything Can Happen”
“Love Me Like You Do”

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