Ellie Goulding at The O2, gig review: Bad-girl shtick does not stick

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Goudling is an undoubted talent, but enough with the yak fur outfits

The right outfit can really make or break a night, so when Ellie Goulding saunters onto the stage wearing a flesh-tinted mesh, gold and black basque topped off with imitation yak-fur capelet which falls uncomfortably between Barbarella and the Night’s Watch from Game Of Thrones, it does not bode well.

It’s a getup typical of the way Goulding’s presented herself over the past couple of years, though. Since she emerged in 2009, pairing her heartwrung chirrup and acoustic-written songs with fizzy, vibrant dancepop provided by producers Starsmith and Frankmusik, the career of the former BBC Sound Of 2010 has been an exercise in making her balance between the intimate and the banging work on a large scale.

Particularly since the success of 2012’s second album ‘Halcyon’, however, it also seems to be about doing the things that Ellie thinks a pop star should do to prove their edge and show they ain’t no Herefordshire girl next door no more - get mad haircuts, chuck in some pyro, wear increasingly risque stage outfits with curlicues in odd places, date Skrillex.

And much like the travesty Ellie’s bounding feverishly around in this evening, this bad-girl shtick doesn’t suit her (indeed, she drops in a snatch of MIA’s ‘Bad Girls’ at one point in the show, to cringingly incongruous effect).

When she walks on in that Post-Apocalypse Icedance gear, it’s as excruciating as seeing a friend walk into a pub wearing it. That’s testament, likely, to the lyrical connection of her songs, which are always solid, and often brilliant, particularly tonight the rushing euphoria and  post-Florence flounce of ‘My Blood’ and the dawn-chorus ravey positivity of ‘Anything Could Happen’.

Musically, she pretty much nails the show, with a dark, Tricky-ish take on Alt-J’s ‘Tessellate’, the piping, jubilant sweetness of ‘Goodness Gracious’ and the Eighties-toned power-angst of ‘The Writer’ standing out, along with her classy Calvin Harris collaboration ‘I Need Your Love’.

But Goulding rarely looks at ease, though she throws every ounce of energy into it, undulating ferociously by her backing dancers, stomp-dancing across the stage like a frisky giraffe, pouting and hair-tossing and dropping to her knees, whacking her ever-present floor tom for all she’s worth before tossing her sticks theatrically across the stage for a sheepish roadie to fetch.

It’s not that she needs to strip her show or her sound back. Though her acoustic moment for oldie ‘Guns N Horses’ serves its purpose as a reminder that Goulding is a writer and musician, her John Lewis ad cover of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’ and her own somewhat mawkish ‘How Long Will I Love You’, while I’m sure they made a lot of people very happy, were some of the lowest points.

It’s more that there must be a way of melding the beats Goulding loves, the songs she writes and the pop star she wants to be that is comfortable as well as commercial.

Goulding is both a huge deal and an undoubted talent. There’s really no need to try as hard as imitation yak fur.

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