Ellie Goulding Bends The Rules At Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium

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Ellie Goulding at the Ryman Auditorium, Nashville, TN
May 20, 2013

“I know this venue is supposed to be seated, but I like having people near me.” With that, Ellie Goulding defied the Ryman Auditorium’s ushers and stage managers — the same people who’d been spending the first third of her set rushing from aisle to aisle, shooing people back into their seats — and created something that’s rarely seen at the Ryman: a mosh pit.

Technically, it was a PG-rated mosh pit, the kind that’s filled with excitable teenagers who’re more interested in getting close to the band than knocking each other down. No one seemed in danger, even as groups of people left their rows and headed toward the stage in a free-for-all frenzy. For a venue that prides itself on being a listening room, though, this was pretty edgy stuff.

It was a relief to see Ellie back in her element, throwing winks to the boys in her band before walking back to mission control — a clump of microphones, synth pads, and percussion at the front of the stage — to trigger another loop or bang out a quick beat on her floor tom. That sort of interaction had been missing from her set at the Hangout Festival last weekend, where Ellie looked a bit swallowed-up by the huge stage. She hardly interacted with the band during that show, and a wide photo pit kept her at least ten feet away from the audience. That performance was still a highlight of the entire weekend… but what a difference a change of scenery can make.

Taking advantage of the Ryman’s killer acoustics, Ellie went heavy on the ballads during the first half hour of her Nashville set, mixing a familiar cover of Elton John’s “Your Song” with a handful of Halcyon’s slower tracks. Then, she gave her band a breather by strapping on an acoustic guitar for a solo version of “Guns & Horses.” Synth loops and piped-in harmonies play a big role in Ellie’s show, and while they rarely overpower the real thing onstage, it’s nice to hear them stripped away. “Guns & Horses” still had plenty of firepower, thanks to the various vocal tics — the helium high notes, the mid-range rasp, the fairy-ish flutter — that push Ellie’s music away from mainstream pop and toward something more uncommon. She’s a dance diva with an arty bent, a singer/songwriter with an ear for club music. And last night, she was on her game.