Lorde, the 17-year-old singer-songwriter from New Zealand, waited more than halfway through her hourlong set to satisfy the majority of the Preakness InfieldFest crowd on Saturday afternoon.
They wanted "Royals," Lorde's Grammy-winning hit single. With the opening line, "I've never seen a diamond in the flesh," the crowd finally perked up. Under a chandelier hanging above the stage, Lorde completed the one-two punch by following "Royals" with "Team," another radio favorite. Sing-alongs commenced as white confetti showered the audience.
The crowd was not as receptive during other parts of the concert, which was not entirely unexpected. Lorde writes moody, minimalist pop songs that have won her many fans but are not tailored to the Infield's mostly college-age party scene. If the comments in my area were any indication, a portion of the crowd was simply perplexed. If they were looking for a fist-pumping experience similar to the one Pitbull provided a year ago, they likely were disappointed.
Throughout her set, Lorde was an eccentric and arresting performer whose stage presence demanded attention as she performed standouts like "400 Lux" and "Buzzcut Season" from her 2013 debut album, "Pure Heroine." And yet some in the crowd were overheard critiquing her makeup (black lipstick still signifies "weird" for some) and dance moves (Lorde is all sharp, sudden movements, like a malfunctioning robot) instead of engaging in the songs.
Of course, plenty of fans — many young and female — hung on her every word, even if their excitement did not penetrate the crowd as a whole. It was difficult to tell if Lorde noticed any lulls — she was gracious throughout, and complimentary of Baltimore. Fittingly, she closed her set with "A World Alone."
As the song ended with the line "the people are talking," Lorde flashed her trademark icy stare. She left the stage with a smirk and a final message, sans music, to detractors and supporters alike: "Let them talk."
Less polarizing was Nas, the day's other headliner. "Thank you, orange cups!" exclaimed the rapper after performing "It Ain't Hard to Tell" on the main stage. The 40-year-old MC from Queens, N.Y., was referring to the Mug Club commemorative cups many in the infield kept raising to the sky in approval throughout his hourlong set. Between songs, Nas repeated "Life is good" — the title of his 2012 album and now seemingly a mantra — and on Saturday afternoon, it was easy to see why.
Nas' 2014 touring schedule has been a 20th anniversary celebration of his landmark debut album, 1994's "Illmatic." At InfieldFest, he performed the record's first four songs in order as many in the crowd recited the acrobatic verses verbatim. Perhaps more than any other album in rap history, "Illmatic" is considered a genre-defining classic that not only changed rappers' approach to lyricism but that has aged wondrously.
It is currently in vogue for veteran acts to perform entire albums years after their release, but not all anniversaries are created equal. But as the response of Saturday's crowd proved, these songs continue to resonate with fans of all ages and backgrounds. "This came out on a cassette!" he proudly yelled before "Halftime," reminding those in the crowd that his legendary status in the genre was cemented long before blogs and MP3s.
Hip-hop's new school has been represented at Preakness InfieldFest before — happy-go-lucky stoner Wiz Khalifa in 2012 and thrift-shop enthusiast Macklemore last year — but Nas' set was an exercise in rap classicism. Nas, dressed in an all-black outfit accented by gold sunglasses and a fat gold rope chain, shouted out the names of old hip-hop heroes ("Rest in peace, Mr. Magic!") and dug deep into his catalog, performing the first song he was ever featured on, 1991's "Live at the Barbecue."
He performed the majority of "Illmatic" but also appeased less dedicated fans by playing radio hits like "I Can" and "One Mic." Before his final song, 2012's "Stay," Nas reminded the crowd of his lineage. "I'm the son of a jazz player," he said, referring to his father, the jazz musician Olu Dara. He went on to invoke the names of Miles Davis and John Coltrane, saying they were in his blood. The genres may be different, but the sentiment felt earned.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun