As a fan long before her official studio debut (‘See.SZA.Run’ anyone?), I’ve witnessed the dizzying rise of fame for the songstress known as SZA, real name Solána Imani Rowe. Her honest and emotionally charged lyrics strike a chord with listeners from around the world, but especially those in the throes of adulthood, young love and tumultous heartbreak. The impressive success of 2017’s CTRL, which is still topping charts six years later, has been effortlessly followed up with massive acclaim brought by SZA’s sophomore album, SOS.
Though SOS is only the artists’ second concert tour, the management team decided to shoot for the stars, leaving the small, tightly-packed theaters from her first tour in the rearview and opting for sold-out, staggering arenas. With many superstar tours dropping in 2023, including Beyoncé, Janet Jackson and Taylor Swift, SZA boasts the hottest ticket of the year thus far. Leading into the final handful of SOS dates, the Portland, Oregon, show on March 18 at the Moda Center was my opportunity to witness the over-the-top production and synchronized performance flair taking the media by storm since the tours’ launch in February.
The evenings’ opener Omar Apollo was a choice of perfection, with the alternative R&B artist walking out to an excited and adoring crowd. Developing a cult-like following since the release of his debut album Ivory and recently being nominated for a Grammy this year, Apollo exuded a humbling and magnetic stage presence. If you are yet to be familiar with this immensely talented, genre-shifting sensation, please take this opportunity to explore his intoxicating fusion of contemporary hip-hop and soulful Latin ballads.
I dare anyone to see Omar Apollo live and walk away unimpressed. Though SZA was icing on the cake, it was Apollo that blew me away.
From beginning to end, SZA brought her conceptual vision of SOS to cinematic life in impeccable form. Embracing the albums’ nautical thematics by spotlighting allegories we’ve inevitably had to face – diving to unknown depths, navigating stormy seas and sometimes, the daunting decision to sink or swim – were all portrayed in a powerful and immersive two-hour experience by the wondrously creative team at Human Person. These weren’t only limited to projections; several large-scale, physical fabrications, including a diving board, a gigantic ship’s bow and mast, a lighthouse and more were incorporated as well. The biggest marvel of any live show for me always lies in the dedicated and hard working industry workers executing these ambitious music productions. Trying to imagine the amount of people it takes to put on high-scale, intricately detailed events like these is a ridiculous feat, all made to look effortless to outside eyes.
In addition to the artistic elements of the show, SZA’s performance itself was heavenly and gilded, featuring bouncy choreography, soaring melodies and a tight, absolute rockstar band flanking both sides of the stage. Her tracklist was SOS heavy as expected, but also featured beloved Ctrl gems ‘Love Galore’, ‘Broken Clocks’, ‘Prom’, ‘Garden (Say It Like Dat)’, ‘Drew Barrymore’ and a cover of Erykah Badu’s ‘Bag Lady’. Though the night was full of momentous energy, the pinnacle of the show was felt towards the performances’ end. Hoisted above the crowd in a life raft being guided toward a towering lighthouse of retreat, the acoustic arrangements of these closing songs proved to be the best opportunity for SZA’s voice to shine clear as crystal.
SZA has not announced additional dates for SOS, but her website lists a festival stop at Hangout Festival in Gulf Shores, Alabama. Stay tuned to the artists’ official website for updates, news and further dates.