Originally published Aug. 1, 2011 on Intersections.
Here are three things you should know about Ellie Goulding: 1) She is British, 2) Her voice has this throaty, candy-sweet, unique and all-around impossible to describe quality to it, and 3) After seeing her rock out, whip her hair, drink tea and sing her little heart out on stage, I may be nursing quite a bit of a crush on her.
Two of my favorite things in this world are: 1) People who sing with a British accent, and 2) Well-done, intelligent pop music (in the immortal words of Lady Gaga, pop music will never be lowbrow.). Both of these things find a home in the music of Ellie Goulding, a 24-year-old blonde from, in her words, “a little town on the border between Wales and England” whose voice will soon captivate us all.
I first came across Ellie about a year or two ago, when I found a cover she did of Passion Pit’s “Sleepyhead” in which, yes, she sang all the high bits. I could listen to that cover all day. I found her EP on the Internet, along with a whole host of covers, remixes, and collabs she’s done, and immediately fell in love with that voice–it’s something you’ve got to hear to understand.
In my opinion, Ellie is best when you don’t dress her up with too many bells and whistles. Don’t get me wrong, I love what Starsmith’s production has done for her on her debut album (Lights, 2010), but the magic of this, and her cover of Robyn’s “Be Mine”, and the crystalline yearning you hear in her own acoustic “The End”–I’ll jump and dance and move to “Starry Eyed” or “Lights”, sure, but it’s when it’s just her singing that I’m happiest.
Going into her concert this past Friday, I was prepared to do a lot of gushing and to sing every word along with her and the rest of the sold-out crowd, but what I wasn’t prepared for was the sheer force that is Ellie Goulding. Was it her endless legs in her high-waisted leather shorts? Was it her leopard print wedges, and the way she danced, stomped, jumped, spun, and just generally moved like an animal all over that stage? Maybe it was her hips, and those thrusts she did during “Under the Sheets” and “Lights”, or the way she stopped her wild-animal-rock-star act every now and then to take a breath, sip from her water (or, adorably, her cup of tea), and fix her hair. I couldn’t look away. The world already knows Ellie Goulding can sing, but somehow her ability to put on a helluva show has gone unnoticed. (Or maybe I’m just a total fangirl, who knows. Did you know that Ellie runs six miles a day? I did.)
Incredible sexiness and physicality aside, Ellie’s performance was everything I wanted it to be and more. She might sound delicate, sweet, and a little Lykke Li-esque on her album, but in concert she is throaty and raw, not afraid to belt it out on the high notes or whip that platinum blonde hair back and forth. It is nothing short of astounding to me that her voice can do what it does–she flips seamlessly between raw screams, pixie-like vocal runs, and sweetly intimate girl-with-guitar honesty. And honesty she has in spades: songs like “Wish I Stayed”, “The End”, “Guns and Horses” and “The Writer” are written by Ellie herself, left over from her days strumming folk guitar in hometown bars. Girlfriend means every word she sings, and it shows.
Overall, in terms of personal satisfaction, crowd engagement, and entertainment value, it was probably the best concert experience I’ve yet had all summer. There’s nothing like being in a building full of people singing every word to all these songs you love. Ellie and her band genuinely left everything out on that stage, and while I am furious at the universe for betraying me and emptying the batteries in my digital camera, I am at peace–when Ellie inevitably tours again for her next album, I’ll be there, front and center.
Set list: Under the Sheets, This Love Will Be Your Downfall, Every Time You Go, Human, Guns and Horses, The End, Wish I Stayed, Your Song (Elton John cover), The Writer, Home, Salt Skin, Lights, Animal, Little Dreams. Encore: Your Biggest Mistake, Starry Eyed.
Opening act: The Bag Raiders, who, while pretty solid as an opening act to get the crowd going, just sounded a lot like what would happen if Cut Copy met a DJ and a really enthusiastic drummer.
Ellie for Noobs: immediately go to YouTube and look for the following: Lights, Starry Eyed, Wish I Stayed, this version of The End, her cover of Elton John’s Your Song.