It’s true that for an hour-and-a-half at Agganis on Monday night, Ellie Goulding was an attractive blonde pop star traipsing around the stage of a nearly full arena in a sports bra and shorts. But the English singer did away with so many of the accoutrements that go hand in hand with such facts that her entire performance seemed to be a rebuke to the conventional wisdom of how the pop-concert game must be played.
For one thing, her outfit had nothing to do with showing skin. It was purely practical (save for a wayward suspender strap that had to be removed mid-song by a stagehand toward the end); Goulding spent the night dancing and clearly figured that she might as well be dressed accordingly. And it was indeed dancing, not choreography, with moves that, if she’s done them before, appeared to have been found organically rather than planned and rehearsed ahead of the tour.
Goulding was simply a singer reveling in her songs instead of the attention of arena-size spectacle. And despite a cracked-reedy voice that threw vulnerability to the fore even on heavy material, that enthusiasm kept her energetic and connected. “I can’t seem to stop,” she sang in the rolling, upbeat “Goodness Gracious,” and “Anything Could Happen” was buoyed by martial uplift and wonder.
The flip side was that even gushing songs like “Starry Eyed” could sound like warnings. But by refusing to push that side of things, Goulding allowed brightness to prevail in numbers like the burbling abandon of the polyrhythmic, club-leaning “Only You” and the fervent “Guns and Horses.” The band cleared the stage for that one, leaving Goulding alone with her acoustic guitar and thousands of female voices singing along. For most others in her position, it would have been a stunt. Goulding made it mean something.
Opening act Conway was Lene Lovich in the guise of Gwen Stefani, her low squeak of a voice playing appealingly off insistent drums and new wave edges. It was promising but a little too self-aware, with her nonstop power poses coming across very much as a considered performance.
gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.