On September 30th, 2010 Ellie Goulding made her debut in New York City at the Hiro Ballroom. She had an acoustic guitar strapped to her, she was timid, yet her voice was gigantic. It’s one of those success stories that you tend to hear about, but you accidentally miss some steps in the artist’s rise to fame. In the case of Ellie Goulding, anyone who witnessed her earliest days will be a combination of proud and impressed by her Halcyon Days – tour that is. In less than four years, Ellie made a swift switch from acoustic upstart to Pop goddess, yet the purity of her sound is still ever-present.
Goulding played three shows in a row, starting with March 12th at the Theater at Madison Square in New York City. That show sold out in minutes, so a second night was tacked onto the Theater for March 13th, followed by a stint in Philadelphia at Temple University’s Liacouras Center. While the Theater at MSG isn’t “The Garden” itself, reaching that milestone is nothing to scoff at. The 5,600-capacity venue is the same place where Lauryn Hill brought her Miseducation Tour to New York on March 24th, 1999 (almost 15 years to the day as Goulding). Why is that important to note? Because both artists arrived from niche backgrounds (in Hill’s case it was hip hop, Goulding’s the often retitled “folktronica”) yet inched their way into Pop stardom with music that initially defied pop’s sonic parameters.
This second go ’round for Ellie Goulding’s Halcyon Days Tour was inadvertently very necessary. When Ellie first embarked on her tour last year, she hadn’t yet released “Burn,” nor had she been linked to a number of soundtracks, most recently the film Divergent, where she’s considered the “Musical Voice” through songs off her Halcyon release, along with the OST song “Beating Heart.” Her album was re-loaded as a “Deluxe Edition,” offering a ton of new tracks, including the aforementioned pop monster “Burn,” plus a handful of buzz cuts.
The setup for this revamped tour was very different from the previous one. Goulding released a series of music videos for her album tracks, and they played on a silk screen behind her this time throughout her performance. She has three backup singers now, a female drummer-slash-keyboardist, and has swapped a beanie and shorts for something a little sexier. The concert began with bolts of lightening on the silk screen and heavy drum n’ bass as Goulding walked out to open with “Figure 8.” As the song closed to electric guitars, Ellie provided a series of matrix moves, freeze framing amidst the roars of the audience. She carried the sentiment right into “Ritual,” before standing in front of her signature tom-tom drums for “Goodness Gracious,” the single co-written by fun. lead singer Nate Ruess.
“I can tell there are people in the audience who have been fans for a very long time,” Goulding said to the crowd as she tinkered with her on-stage MPC to deliver one of her earliest singles, “Starry Eyed.” She then moved into the Madeon-assisted “Stay Awake,” a lesser known song that still had the crowd chanting word for word (primarily at the Philly show). Goulding exited the stage, the lights went out and she returned with her cover of Alt-J’s “Tessellate,” followed by her recent cover of James Blake’s “Life Round Here.” Ellie is the Queen of Cover Songs, but it’s hard to tell who the original author was once she gets her hands on the composition. She was thrown a giant white Les Paul acoustic-electric guitar from the side of the stage and moved into “Guns And Horses” and Divergent‘s “Beating Heart.”
That’s the beauty of an artist like Ellie Goulding: She came up in the coffee house circuit of London, so she mastered the art of carrying her band on her back (a guitar) — yet is the quintessential electronic artist who is adept at recreating that sound live on stage without it feeling like she’s just pressing play on an iPod. It’s a very rare combination to have both, yet still remember both vividly once the lights of fame start blinding the path. As she continued through her set with a combination of her debut album Lights‘ songs like “The Writer” and “Every Time You Go,” she switched with Halcyon songs like “Explosions” and “My Blood.”
Then came a breakdown to M.I.A.’s “Bad Girls” where she beat on the drums and danced, ushering in Lights b-side “Salt Skin.” There was no deficit in energy from the start of each show to the finish, even once “Anything Could Happen” rolled around and she politely demanded that everyone danced while she jumped around and did “the robot.” Her first big smash “Lights” caused hysteria, as did her encores “You My Everything” and the obvious “Burn,” where she ends the performance zipping on a black electric guitar.
From New York City to Philly, Ellie Goulding gave each date her all, and her audiences responded accordingly. While her MSG dates felt slightly more structured, it was in Philly that her audience of college students allowed her to briefly return to her beginnings with artist-to-fan interaction (the crowd held up hearts and signs when she sang her Elton John cover of “Your Song”). They even threw her a fitted hat with “Goulding” embossed on it, and she squealed, “I can keep this? Sweet!” (Instagram proof).
While Goulding continues her ascent into stardom, it’s clear that she never forgets where she came from.
Halcyon Days tour setlist
Life Round Here
Guns N Horses
Everytime You Go
This Love Will Be Your Downfall
Anything Could Happen
I Need Your Love
You My Everything
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