By Greg Wetherall
Renamed, revamped, but in retention of all of the virtues synonymous with its reputation, this year, Apple’s residency at London’s Roundhouse arrives with a new moniker. Keeping the caps lock in their more traditional arrangement, the celebration is now named Apple Music Festival, and the sprawling scale of yesteryear has been scaled right back.
Presented as a leaner, fitter, 10-date festival model, kicking off this year’s occupancy of the circular venue is a festival veteran. Ellie Goulding marks her fourth appearance at a point where her trajectory can be mapped only with an ascendant plot. Her stock is soaring high and her wattage is burning bright as she currently basks in the afterglow of the ubiquity of the E.L. James film adaptation and her soundtrack song ‘Love Me Like You Do’, which continues to do good business for her. This is just as well, as she makes preparation for the release of her upcoming up, Delirium, in November.
Settling down for the start, the bustling, packed floor is greeted by kinetic video footage depicting the Goulding live experience. As the video plays out, the band quietly take to the stage in darkness before launching into a muscular take on the Calvin Harris collaboration ‘Outside’. Like a bride’s prerogative, Goulding arrives last. Greeted by huge cheers, she wastes no time in throwing her sinewy and lithe physique across the space with a restless enthusiasm and purposeful intent.
The first quarter of an hour is marked by a clutch of high-octane material. It is an exercise in tempo maintenance, but possibly at the expense of diversity and character, as one song blurs into the next. It feels as though a blueprint has been followed to the strictest of codes. Truth be told, it does Goulding no real favours. She sounds neutered in such a monotonous setting, and especially so when you consider that her USP resides in that deliciously recognisable voice: a tantalising blend that encapsulates a worn-in smoky huskiness offset by an angelic high(er) register; like a larynx lacquered with honey and rounded off with a complementary sandpaper rub. It is a voice of character.
This realisation makes it all the more frustrating therefore that this unusual tonal timbre lies ensconced increasingly solely within the bludgeoning repetition of faceless EDM. 'I only live down the road, so it didn't take me long to get here', she imparts in her first extended address to the audience of the night, before the opening strains of first-album staple and live show mainstay ‘Starry Eyed’ makes a welcome appearance. Only subtly different from the opening brace of dance-centred electro, like ‘Goodness Gracious’, it is enough of a change of pace to feel like an analgesic administered to a stomach pain.
She then steps back even further in time with an outing for her delicate and bewitching version of Elton John’s ‘Your Song’. And it feels like a quaint antiquity: a nod to the days of old. Despite commitment, it seems like nothing more than a gesture. In the main, this is a Goulding that no longer exists, and it is hard to not perceive it as akin to her looking at an old school photograph of herself. She doesn’t mind looking at the photo, she just doesn’t want to put the uniform on and go back to class. She’s over that now. That means that there is no room in the set for the likes of ‘The Writer’, ‘Guns and Horses’ or even her Waterboys cover, ‘How Long Will I Love You’. It also means that attendees aren’t treated to any of her nimble and impressive acoustic guitar playing.
Grumbles aside though, it must be said that for any criticism of her devotion to bombast, when she gets the formula right, she nails it completely. This is best exemplified in the Hacylon material, which dominates nearly half of the set. Deservedly so. You name them, they all shake the foundations: ‘Anything Can Happen’, ‘Burn’, ‘Figure 8’, ‘My Blood’ and, also, the single that never was, ‘Only You’. In fact, as the pointed but hopeful and faintly mysterious 2011 single ‘Lights’ rings clear, you are presented with irrefutable proof that her catalogue is littered with an abundant number of 24-carat gold pop songs; the sort of material that any aspiring pop-leaning artist would chew both their arms, and possibly more, off for.
Departing to the aforementioned ‘Love Me Like You Do’, you sense that this is a British artist who feels in control of their path and is having a thoroughly good time taking it. As an affectionate bystander, you can’t help but wish for some of the shade to make its way back into their output in order to balance the catalogue back out, but there’s no denying that Goulding is in rude health over all.
As for the festival itself, this new version offers unforeseen additional benefits aside from a refined approach to the currency and clout of the names chosen to headline. On the evidence of tonight, there is a restored preciousness amongst the winners of the ballot, which once again veers towards a Willy Wonker-style 'Golden Ticket' air. This was something that seemed to sadly ebb away as the festival moved from newcomer novelty into relative maturity.
One night down and nine more to come, Goulding made sure that the festival was launched with a brilliant bang. The bar has been raised. Follow that, Take That. I guess we’ll see how they fare.
Photos: Apple Music Festival, London 2015
Anything Can Happen
I Need Your Love
You My Everything
On My Mind
Love Me Like You Do
Apple Music Festival is running until 28th September 2015 with performances from Mumford & Sons, Florence & the Machine, Take That, One Direction and more to come. For all the coverage, please stay tuned to SupaJam for your post-gig dispatch and review.
Fans can get even closer to their favourite performers with coverage on Beats 1 alongside backstage news and footage straight from the artists on Apple Music Connect.
For updates, tickets and additional information,visit www.applemusic.com/festival or www.applemusicfestival.com and don’t forget to join the conversation on Apple Music Connect or Tweet / Instagram using #applemusicfestival