March 17, 2014 at Boston University’s Agganis Arena — Since her last stop in Beantown a year ago, Ellie Goulding has surely had some Halcyon Days. Tour after tour, new releases, awards, appearances, movie soundtracks… so much hard work and well-earned success… And it showed tonight.
January 23, 2013 — ‘Twas a halcyon night from the start, well maybe but for the subzero cold and howling winds that Ellie Goulding‘s fans had to brave while queuing by her cool tour bus in the shadow of shuttered Fenway Park. But judging from the lively crowd that eventually filled Boston’s House of Blues, it seemed that they all thawed out in time.
In fact, a pretty hot show was in store; no Boston Pops-icles concert.
Things got kicked off well enough with a sparkling set by opening power-pop group St. Lucia, an instantly likable band of five with a keen knack for catchy hooks and hearty beats. A great warmup for Ellie, but worth a listen on their own. (Actually, St. Lucia is formally solo recording artist Jean-Philip Grobler with a live touring ensemble. But a nice bunch they all were, hanging around to meet and greet fans at the end of the night.)
It was 9 o’clock sharp and roughly 9 below outside when the fog effects at last rolled in and a knit-capped Ellie G, looking cutely elvish, emerged on stage for 90 fast minutes of music, musings, and a little amusement. Backed by a versatile band of four fine lads (each of whom seemed to play and array of instruments), the 26-year-old British-born song-spinning lass, a multi-talented musician herself, launched into the haunting lead track from her latest album with conviction in her voice and a floor tom at her feet.
But fans of her previous release, the debut album Lights, might find themselves doing a musical double-take at first. Is this the same Ellie whose fresh, honest songs and sound made Lights so immediately easy to like?
Well, yes and no. But it’s all good.
That’s because Halcyon reflects a brilliant flash forward for this 25-year-old British folktronic wunderkind (okay, I just really wanted to say British folktronic wunderkind). The sparse production and narrower range of her first album, though inviting and charming, have suddenly given way to a stunning musical maturity and wide array of styles, evoking themes and layers of emotion worth many a listen.
It’s a phenomenon not unheard of for new artists, the best ones anyway. Another recent example is Philly-based powerhouse Halestorm, whose first (namesake) album, though pure and raw rock, is far exceeded in all respects by their second studio effort, “The Strange Case of…” Debut albums often represent where a band or artist has come from in their formation, like those early original tunes that first clicked in front of the local fans in small clubs and concerts. It’s the follow-up record that tells where they’re going. For both Halestorm (Lzzy Hale and the boys) and Ellie Goulding, that’s far and fast.
I have to admit — on my first time through Halcyon, I was so surprised at what I was hearing that I actually stopped after the third song. I realized that I was listening to it wrong. So I forgot about the earlier Ellie I’d heard on Lights and started again. Then it all made sense. And though I’ve now played it many times through, I’m still discovering wonderful things. A sure sign of talent made to last.
Some standouts from Halcyon include My Blood (which echoes the legendary Kate Bush for me), title tune Halcyon, Figure 8 (with the catchy lyrical hook “I chase your love around a figure 8, I need you more than I can take…”), and In My City (from the extended album, which I recommend).
And just to highlight the variety of great songs and songwriting skills on this album, I offer these random observations…
If you know Flyleaf and their just-now-leaving lead singer Lacey, you might be reminded of their quieter-side on songs Atlantis and Explosions — there’s something about these two and Ellie’s delivery of them that makes me think of Lacey unplugged (which is high praise indeed).
And if you like Bat for Lashes, have a listen to Dead in the Water. It dives into the moody realm of Natasha Khan (another fave).
So there you have it, folktronica fans — it sounds like Ellie’s no flash in the pan. Expect only brighter lights ahead.
A random music review by John Klobucher
author of Lore of the Underlings
Her soft, enchanting voice and intimate lyrics are a perfect match for an upcoming character I have in mind. It’s amazing how a singer or a song can help conjure someone from silence, shape her with sound, and fill her with life from nothing. Ellie’s follow-up album, Halcyon, is due in early October. Looking forward to that.
British folktronica will always have a place in my world!