Lorde’s song Dancer in the Dark is transformative when heard live
There’s what Wim Wenders said, when remembering his first experience of a performance by the great dancer Pina. He had never appreciated that artistic medium’s capacity for storytelling. Suddenly he did, maybe the movement, maybe the thematic sweep, but it swung wide and ran him through like that metaphorical crane Bon Iver’s croons of in The Wolves (Act I & II).
But add it to the live concert experience, where it takes a backseat to the music performed by an artist, or group: in that context, does it still pack the same punch? Not really, for me. Where it should be arresting, it instead devolves into the distracting and gimmicky. My mind turns to the choreography of unforgettably forgettable Super Bowl halftime shows, the performer flanked by a phalanx of gyration.
There is something to be said for ambition, however. And there is nothing more ambitious than singing while you dance than, perhaps, playing an instrument—and playing it well—while you sing. So I did my best to go along with the concert experience Lorde provided for a boisterous crowd at Oracle Arena this past Tuesday evening, because dancing was a big part of it.
The concert began with the introduction of a pack of six or seven accompanying dancers, who would break down to smaller groups, pairing off or reassembling depending upon the thematic demands of a particular song. Sometimes Lorde was involved directly, most memorably when she was borne aloft by all six (I guess it wasn’t seven), one of the dancers dexterously handing her the mic so she could keep singing in suspension.
I should probably remember what song she was singing at that seminal moment—a better journalist would—but I don’t and this is in keeping with the point I’m taking a while to get to.
Because there was a moment, represented in the course of the song Dancer in the Dark, when all the stage craft receded and Lorde simply sat down on the stage, head in hands as she sang, much as I’d seen Regine Chassagne do in the same arena months before as Win Butler began Arcade Fire’s song, We Don’t Deserve Love.
I remember that moment because of the emotion conveyed in Chassagne’s face. It stunned me. Even though it was a song off the band’s newest record, this particular concert was well into their initial tour, so she’d sung it numerous times. What I mean is there had been ample time to get jaded.
But there was no going through the motions; it’s not the Arcade Fire way. Chassagne looked so invested, so present, that I had the I Believe moment so many speak of when referring to that band’s concerts, when you are borne up out of yourself and become lost in the world of that particular music. Catharsis never came along to a funkier beat.
With a song of her own, Lorde produced one of those moments. There’s a cool new feature on Spotify (no, that’s not a plug to fulfill a paid endorsement, but I’m certainly not averse to that possibility in the future if anyone from Spotify happens to read this wink wink) that goes “behind the song”, so to speak. As a song plays, text emerges showcasing certain details behind its inception.
For Dancer in the Dark, Lord (I mean, Lorde—I always get those two mixed up) notes that the song stemmed from a night when she woke up suddenly next to someone in bed. Wee, small hours: when are they not ripe for inspiration? Something about the situation spoke to her, and she began penning a song about love, and loss, and the mistrust and paranoia that inevitably connect the two. Something so meta about ruminating over the end of a relationship while you’re in one, laying right next to that person, in fact. It’s ruthless, as only the best of artists can be.
As she sang that song, her hands would fly up repeatedly to punctuate certain points. I found thoughts flying; the latest confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity. There’s no telling where you’ll travel in your mind in the course of a song. Music is often derided for its manipulative capacities, especially when it is used in film. Think of the most blockbustery of blockbusters.
Thankfully there are exceptions to the rule, in this case occasions when overwhelming the audience is absolutely the right call. That’s the point of a concert. L’estasi on a constant loop. This song was climactic, for me. My feet felt like trunks, my eyes glazed over, tears filling up, my head a can about to tip over from their weight. If that ain’t the live experience we yearn for, then what is?