Ellie Goulding, Shepherd's Bush Empire, London

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The Independent Culture

The lights go down, and a scream goes up – as do several hundred winking camera phones. This is electro-pop starlet Ellie Goulding's biggest gig to date, promoting her much-hyped debut album, Lights; her name appears in huge, curling, lit-up letters behind her.

She's an unlikely star. Despite being clad in denim short-shorts and a crop top, she doesn't have the self-promoting attitude of her fellow synth-pop princesses. She's no Florence, Marina or Gaga and despite garnering both BBC and Brits Critics' Choice awards, Goulding's album disappointed. While her tremulous voice has a certain quirky appeal, the marriage of folksy tunes and electronic beats hardly feels original. Girl-goes-electro is an old trend, and Lights is so slick and over-produced as to almost wipe out that original voice. All those awards have catapulted this small-town girl into the limelight and apparently it's all been toomuch.

Still, even if she's daunted by tonight's show, there's still a certain determination here. An earnest urgency begins to show through, as she grinds her teeth, wags her finger at us and twitches her head about.

By "This Love", her voice is lifting, breaking, almost shouting over the tight band delivering drums, keyboards and samples. And it gradually becomes clear just how much credit Goulding should take for her arresting vocals. The woozy, vocoder-sounding refrains on new single, "Guns and Horses", turn out to be delivered straight up – she's apparently less reliant on production effects than you'd expect.

On the cheesy but catchy "I'll Hold My Breath", the 23-year-old sings "tell me that we're still too young... and I'll hold my tongue". She mostly does hold her tongue between songs; audience interaction pretty much amounts to "thanks for coming".

However, she introduces "Salt Skin" by telling us it's about "being a warrior" – and suddenly it's as if the warrior in Goulding is unleashed. In the last few numbers, a much-needed shot of adrenalin is injected into her music and performance.

Ditching the guitar, she joins her drummer in bashing out a ferocious beat, her leg going in time, hair flying. It's like a release, a vent – a way for her to be real onstage. The drumming carries us into "Under the Sheets", one of the better album tracks and a highlight of the evening.

Then she's joined by singer-songwriter Lissie for a pared-down encore, a cover of "Making Pies" by Patty Griffin, a track Goulding used to sing it at open-mic nights when she was 17.

It's followed by "Wish I Stayed", whose opening recalls Björk's "Joga", although despite early comparisons and some similar vocal tics, Goulding's commercial pop is still far from the fierce originality of Björk's best work. Goulding finishes on a high note, with her hit "Starry Eyed", and its unshakeable chorus: "Next thing, we're touching/You look at me, it's like you hit me with lightning." Her voice quavers and soars; she dances furiously, before banging her drum – and this time it explodes into a shower of glitter. Next thing, we're watching, and she's become a starlet.