Look, Lizzo could have kept the sold-out crowd at First Avenue waiting till 1:45 a.m., seated herself on the edge of the stage, and just tossed out GRRRL PRTY ski caps till bar time. Her Twitter mentions still would have been blessed and ablaze with grateful emoticons till the break of dawn. But victory laps are beneath Lizzo. She didn't downshift for her Mainroom headlining debut Saturday. She floored it.
Lizzo's first local show since the December release of Big GRRRL Small World wasn't particularly a night for surprises (the set essentially followed the new album's track listing). But the feedback loop of an artist coming into her own in front of an audience that recognizes that achievement — and that thought she'd already come into her own a year ago or more — generates a unique energy.
A good visual image of that energy: Lizzo, beaming, in black leotard and pink sneakers and gray windbreaker, hair blown glamorously back by a small fan. (An electric one — not the ticket-buying kind.)
The sawtooth gear-grind of her opener, “Ain't I,” evaporated into wafts of soul-jazz keyboards before a barrage of “Ain't I a woman”s, question marks omitted, hammered the track to a halt. “Betcha” climaxed with Lizzo's No. 1 accomplice, the fantastically coiffed perpetual mover Sophia Eris, doing pushups on the monitors while the star curled her mic like a dumbbell and clipped the first vowel in “Betcha ain't cool” till the title sounded like a much nastier word.
Lizzo's between-song banter was conversational but quick, offering a shortcut to the next track whether attempting to introduce “Humanize” by discussing its video (and being forced to pause after “as women in this industry” by a swelling crowd roar), interjecting “let's get to some rap shit” before tackling “The Fade,” or prefacing “1 Deep” with a simple and heartfelt “You guys mind if I get a little personal? This song is about my momma and my daddy.”
A two-man band — bassist James Buckley, who alternated between acoustic and electric, and Eric Mayson on keyboards – added oomph and texture to pre-recorded instrumental tracks, and Lizzo herself closed off “The Realest” with a piercing flute solo. (I didn't say it was a night for no surprises.)
And two backup dancers, “Big Grrrls” Grace Holden and Jessi Williams, performed practiced but not rigid routines that owed as much to modern dance as hip-hop: There was skilled hair-whipping, something elaborate and chair-centered, and a giddy freakout to Shamir's “On the Regular.”
As a badass guide to multiple varieties of self-adoration, “En Love,” was the perfect set up to a three-song GRRRL PRTY mini-set. (OK, so there were surprises.) Manchita joined Lizzo and Eris front and center as DJ Shannon Blowtorch took over beats, and the bangers were a high-energy contrast to the multiple moods of the suite-like productions of Big Grrrl Small World.
The guest-studded encore was similarly uptempo. Lizzo called Har Mar Superstar on stage to celebrate his birthday, foiling his attempt to disguise himself in sweater and jeans as his mild-mannered twin Sean Tillmann.
The next visitor to the stage, Caroline Smith (now that was not a surprise, come on), joined Lizzo to lead the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Har Mar, and remained for the high-energy blast of good vibes “Let ‘Em Say.” “Batches and Cookies” and “Faded” closed the show with a bang.
But the show-stopper had come earlier, with a version of “My Skin” that finished with Lizzo first singing “Black Lives Matter,” then “My life matters.” She dedicated the song to Beyonce, expressing an unashamed, fannish excitement about the release of “Formation” earlier that afternoon. (Eris had kicked off her terrific DJ set earlier that night with the new track — probably the first time anyone present had heard it in a club.)
That introduction underlined the grateful nature of the “Flawless” quote in “My Skin,” making it possible to hear it as an acknowledgment that what makes this ballad of self-affirmation possible is the example of another woman, that fandom and stardom exist on a continuum.
Lizzo's strength as a performer isn't just her robust singing or the quick-lipped rapping – there are more commanding divas and fiercer MCs. It's not even the air of goodwill that makes her most snarly lyrical beatdowns land like love taps, meant for your own good. It's a charisma that radiates from a remarkable sense of ease and comfort with herself and with the attention she receives. Our Bey-next-door, Lizzo is first, but she's among equals.
With GRRRL PRTY
Jang A Lang
Happy Birthday (with Caroline Smith)
Let ‘Em Say (with Caroline Smith)
Batches and Cookies