Ellie Goulding seemed to have a little bit of everything in her first local arena headlining concert Thursday night at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center.
Coming off a big showing at the hipster mega-fest Coachella last month — and buoyed by opening-act stints with Katy Perry and Taylor Swift before that — the British electro-pop singer has found a middle ground between music niches in her recording career, and she took a similar approach to Thursday’s 1¾-hour performance.
The “Lights” hitmaker offered enough shimmery stage lighting and glitzy production to justify her name in lights at the big arena, where she drew a respectable 6,000 fans in the half-sized medium “theater” configuration.
Goulding also danced just enough with a small crew of backup dancers to prove she’s able, if not willing. She changed outfits several times but mostly wound up wearing black, apparently not wanting to look too costume-y. She banged on drums and played occasional guitar parts to merit having her roadies lugging the instruments on and offstage. She sang with an airy, soft voice in many songs but delivered a few tunes with gusto and prowess to occasionally impress as a vocalist.
One thing she didn’t have enough of though: fun.
Goulding, 29, looked mechanical and forced in the most buoyant, dance-ready numbers early in the show, including the opening song “Aftertaste” and “Keep On Dancin.’ ” The latter was accompanied by a DayGlo-tinted dance routine that just felt like visual mush.
She was the opposite of flashy between songs, talking like she was at a self-help convention. “I worry about things all the time,” she confessed in hushed tones before the Madonna/’80s-flavored “Don’t Panic.” What a party starter!
Instead of coming off like the electronic dance music answer to Swift or Perry, Goulding proved to be more like the EDM Celine Dion. But her glum manner was warranted in some of the concert’s more dramatic, downcast — and often best — tunes.
Six songs into the set, she compellingly stripped away the glitz and delivered “Devotion” on acoustic guitar. She took a similar approach to reinventing her 2011 breakout hit “Lights,” converted into a piano ballad that would go over big at the saddest piano bars in the world.
Matching the tone of the latter song, Goulding also threw in a weepy, dramatic rendition of Prince’s “When Doves Cry” mid-set, which she has sung several other times since the Minneapolis rock legend’s death. “I feel like I should do it here,” she said. Ya think?
Goulding finally loosened up on in “On My Mind,” a catchy but grinding dance-pop gem a la her Swedish peer Robyn’s work. The party vibe carried over to the confetti-strewn finale, “Love Me Like You Do,” and peaked before the encore with “Burn,” when she said she was having so much fun she would “allow” the crowd to take out cellphones and flash them. “I normally tell you to put ’em away,” she said.
For their part, the fans — lots of moms with teen girls and college-age couples — appeared to be having a blast throughout the show. Goulding’s songs stood up well in concert, with many catchy singalong moments and excited dancing. The singer herself, though, stood out as something of a stiff.