Olivia Rodrigo did it backwards. She sang on numerous TV programs and award shows — including the Grammys twice — before she ever performed a concert.
That’s not how it’s supposed to work, is it?
Billie Eilish made her Twin Cities debut in the tiny 7th Street Entry. Adele introduced herself to Minneapolis at the smallish Theater de la Jeune Lune. Taylor Swift’s first local appearance was at a radio station showcase at the modest-sized Myth nightclub.
Pop’s latest supernova, Rodrigo — who last week grabbed three Grammys including best new artist — had performed only six concerts under her own name before her Twin Cities debut Thursday at the instantly sold-out Armory. And it was likely the first concert ever for some of the 8,000 tween and teen girls lucky enough to snag tickets when demand might have warranted two nights in an arena.
Despite her lack of concert experience, Rodrigo, 19, handled herself like a seasoned pro. She read her de ella adoring, flower-bearing, sing-along-to-every-song fans like an entry in her diary de ella.
Twice, she abruptly stopped in mid-song after spotting an island of flashing cellphone lights in the middle of the jam-packed crowd standing on the main floor. She asked what was wrong, fans shouted for water and Rodrigo asked security staff to help.
Then the rookie started each song again from the top—and delivered them with overwhelming fervor.
That’s the thing about Rodrigo: She brings the urgency and angst of punk-pop with the details and introspection of folk-pop. And, like a teen hooked on heightened emotions, she sang every song as if it apparently involved life-or-death consequences.
Taking the stage after a clip of “Olivia,” a 2015 deep track by One Direction, Rodrigo exploded into “Brutal,” a blast of angry punk-pop. “I’m sick of 17,” she snarled. “Where’s my [bleeping] teenage dream?” (Sorry, Moms, she drops an occasional F-bomb.)
Rodrigo’s music is full of the rush and crush of teen romance. She sings a lot about ex-boyfriends who’ve moved on too quickly to their next girlfriends. Rodrigo captures the anxieties and insecurities of being a teenager better than any singer-songwriter since Swift.
Like the Swifties and Eyelashes, the Livies sang along Thursday to every single song — all 11 of them — from Rodrigo’s “Sour,” one of the biggest and best albums of 2021.
The newcomer balanced ballads on piano and guitar with a few full-blast rockers by his backup quartet. In a bold move, she didn’t save her biggest smash for the finale but rather played “Drivers License” as the third number. That piano ballad of—what else? — betrayal and heartache was a perfect change of pace after the thrashing opener “Brutal” and the electro-pop self-loathing of “Jealousy Jealousy” (“I think I think too much”).
Thursday’s concert consisted of faithful recreations of Rodrigo’s album, with added arena oomph from the drums and some pedal steel guitar seasoning on “Favorite Crime,” one of the highlights. While her band de ella was super-charged and Rodrigo was clearly amped, she demonstrated impressive control of her potent, keening voice, from a purr to a roar.
The exuberant newcomer commanded the stage, stomping, twirling and skipping around, standing on a grand piano in her white Doc Martens boots, even singing while lying on her back atop the piano and getting comfy sitting on the edge of the stage. She did a few numbers solo on acoustic guitar and played piano backed by her band de ella.
With less than 35 minutes of music on “Sour,” Rodrigo needed to fill out her too-brief 64-minute set. She added “All I Want,” a post-breakup track she wrote three years ago for her awkwardly titled Disney TV show “High School Musical: The Musical: The Series” and two covers of hits older than she is: Avril Lavigne’s 2002 ode to phoniness “Complicated” and Veruca Salt’s 1994 grunge-y guitar workout “Seether.”
While both of these Gen X classics were part of her upbringing, “Seether” was a favorite in her mom’s car. And Thursday night was special because it was the first time Mom was seeing Rodrigo in concert. (Say “Hi Jen,” she urged the faithful, who obliged with full throated volume.)
Little details clearly matter to Rodrigo. Like her by her all-female backup band by her; her plaid skirt and crop top covered with a giant heart; her shout-out to opening act Gracie Abrams, 22, one of her influences on her; Ella’s moments with her mom, and her butterfly-shaped confetti covered with handwritten messages, lyrics and song titles.
The message of the concert was clear: Don’t be ashamed or apologetic for your feelings. Just let them out. It’s necessary and cathartic.
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