Ellie Goulding Live at Hiro Ballroom (Concert Review)

Last October, Ellie Goulding performed “Under The Sheets” on Later…with Jools Holland for the first time on British television. She appeared visibly nervous, concealed underneath what was then her trademark hooded sweatshirt, as her voice stuttered and cracked as if struggling to find the right note.

It’s hard to believe that the girl in that performance was the same one on stage Thursday night.

Just one year later, the singer came sauntering out on stage for her debut showcase in New York City with a cool new air of confidence. With her golden tresses now hanging free from concealment and her midriff bared in a lace (yet tasteful!) top, she displayed none of the nerves from her first televised performance. In fact, might I dare say, Ellie Goulding was giving us some new-found sex appeal.

The night’s set list was essentially a scattered version of her debut album (Lights), albeit with a few covers thrown in by Temper Trap (“Sweet Disposition”) and Midlake (“Roscoe”). Not only did she hit all the same notes as the studio versions, but she easily surpassed them, improvising riffs that displayed the full, untapped potential of Goulding’s weird, warbling vocals (sounds like an insult; totally isn’t.)

While I was expecting the show to be fantastic, I don’t think I could have anticipated the energy that was to come from the rising UK pop starlet: Goulding utterly commanded the small stage at Hiro Ballroom, thrashing around with her guitar, whirling her hair, and throwing her head back to unleash a full-bellied howl at least four or five times throughout the night. When the lyrics got bitter, she snarled; when they got emotional, her signature shaky vibrato broke each syllable of her words.

Between songs, Goulding was adorably warm and humble, cracking jokes at her own expense and winning the audience’s affections quickly. Since she was feeling a but under the weather with an ear problem, she took a couple breaks to take a sip from her drink (“apple juice–just apple,” she’d unconvincingly repeat to us) and chat with the audience.

“I know a lot of you guys know me from my stuff over in the UK,” she began at one point as the bulk of the crowd began to cheer, “And then you other people who are here–um, I don’t really know why you’re here,” she giggled along with the audience. “But that’s great! It’s great.”

While it was an amazing show throughout, the greatest performance of the night (aside from the encore’s surging performance of “Starry Eyed”) came during her album’s closing song, “Salt Skin.”

Aside from providing spot-on delivery, Goulding took the track to another level by pulling out a pair of drumsticks and going to town on what was an utterly killer drum solo. At that point, the entire crowd turned quiet as she launched into her brief frenzy, seemingly awestruck (you could tell as the camera’s came fumbling out from every direction), and at last bursting into an eruption of cheers upon the final few bangs. (Watch the video above–it’s a must!)

Before tonight, I’d always maintained a quiet skepticism that Ellie Goulding might not have been more than a one-time pet project on behalf of producer Starsmith than a talent in her own right. That doubt has since been squelched.

With one of her first performances in America, the winner of the BBC’s Sound of 2010 proved why her name is deservedly attached to that title–and how capable she is of continuing to soar as a star for years to come.

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