It was just around 7 p.m. and a line of students sat in front of Ritchie Coliseum on sidewalks blocked off by caution tape. Waiting at a red light on Route 1, a girl poked her head out of her car with a face of confusion.
She shouted out to the line of college kids.
“What are you guys waiting for?”
“The guy who sings ‘Electric Love!'”
It’s no secret that Børns came to Student Entertainment Events’ Back to School Concert on Sept. 2 as a bit of a one-hit wonder. His 2015 album Dopamine — a medley of ethereal vocals, pulsating electronic beats and fanciful lyricism — received mostly positive reviews and peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard 200. But many students huddled in Ritchie Coliseum Friday likely knew little more of the indie pop singer-songwriter than his hit song “Electric Love.” The euphoric single found a home on pop radio stations, appeared on TV commercials and sold over 500,000 copies, earning it a gold certification from the Recording Industry Association of America.
So it was up to Børns, backed by his band, to prove his worth as a dynamic musician with more than one song to show for it. And he mostly succeeded in that challenge.
The first thing that you notice about Børns — whether it’s on his records or when he’s in front of over 1,200 Terps crammed together in Ritchie Coliseum — is his natural skill as a vocalist. Throughout Dopamine, his voice borders on pristine and immaculate. Just take a listen to the opening of “Past Lives” as he seamlessly ascends to angelic high notes before delving into a hypnotizing echo of vocals. But the Michigan-born artist doesn’t need the best of modern music production technology to pull off that feat; he scaled to his upper-register with ease on the opening of “Past Lives” on Friday, eliciting a frenzy of cheers from the throng of students before him.
The most raucous moment of the night, as expected, came during his performance of “Electric Love.” The whole night seemed to be a build-up to that one precious moment, and when it happened, it was an explosion of ecstasy. Everyone began to jump, dance or move their bodies in whatever vigorous way the music compelled them to. Throughout the night, some members of the crowd sang along to a handful of songs — a wonderful cover of Elton John’s “Bennie And The Jets” and the slick “American Money” among them — but that was nothing compared to the deafening roar of one thousand Terps bellowing “Baby your electric loOoOve.” It truly was a fun moment, and one with a real connection between performer and concertgoer that made up for a handful of moments where slower songs seem to have temporarily lost the interest of the crowd.
People mostly swayed throughout the concert, as Børns’ songs often have stripped-down, slower moments that don’t always lend themselves to dancing. That might have been disappointing if you were looking for a night of non-stop body moving. But it makes sense, given that many tracks on Dopamine are more mild-mannered with glossy vocals and mid-tempo synthy beats. And that plays right into the hands of Børns, who has a mysterious, effortlessly cool demeanor about him. His wavy locks resting on the shoulders of his leather jacket, that aura was on display as he sauntered throughout the stage for most of the night and matched his live vocals to the ones on his neatly packaged 11-track LP.
Presumably just to show off, after half the audience immediately shuffled out of Ritchie Coliseum following the end of “Electric Love,” Børns took to the stage for an encore featuring the celestial “Clouds” and David Bowie’s “Heroes.” His fingers plucking guitar strings, Børns’ vocals reverberated throughout the Coliseum, taking up the space the newly departed mass of students left behind.
Most artists would leave their biggest hit for the encore, but not Børns. Opting to end with a cover of Bowie is a bold move. It’s a shame that people exited before the encore, presumably because they expected “Electric Love” itself to be the encore, but it also created a more intimate moment that showcased Børns’ ability to meld his delicate vocals with Bowie’s anthemic “Heroes.”
That’s no easy task, and it signals the bright future the indie pop singer has. With only one studio album under his belt, there’s still room for growth and new music that will decide whether Børns becomes a heavy-hitter in pop music with staying power. But based off his sheer talent as a vocalist alone, I left Friday night’s concert excited for what we will hear next from the eccentric singer-songwriter.