WRITTEN BY: Lily Sanders
Almost four months had passed, the show had been rescheduled twice, and a venue change had been made, but loyal SZA fans did not let that dampen their mood. The original Philadelphia Ctrl tour date was supposed to be August 27th at the TLA, but was later rescheduled to December 22nd at The Fillmore, and changed for a second time to January 31st. When Wednesday rolled around, I had a lot of built up anticipation. Would the show be worth the wait?
When my friend and I arrived at the venue, we were surprised to see no line wrapping around the building. The wait outside of The Fillmore can be annoyingly long for larger artists, so I knew this was an indication that many people had opted not to show. Upon entering the building I knew my assumption was correct, but for a popular, recently Grammy-nominated artist like SZA, I initially expected the venue to be packed.
We picked up our tickets from will call, which I had forgotten were meet and greet, and we quickly found a spot to stand in the crowd. The opening act was supposed to start at 8:00 and we had arrived at around the 7:45 mark with just minutes to spare. Smino and Ravyn Lenae were listed as openers for SZA’s Ctrl tour; the artist performing depended on the specific tour date. After the 8:00, 8:30, and the eventual 9:00 mark passed I realized the DJ playing top 50 hip hop hits was about as much of an opener as we were going to get.
I was not particularly invested in Ravyn Lenae or her music. To be frank I’m not even sure who she is, but I would have appreciated some sort of heads up that she would have not been there.
Around 9:05, SZA strolled on stage, and her lively presence made me temporarily forget the hassle associated with attending this concert. She has this air about her that immediately captivated me and many other concert goers. There were no glitzy stage backdrops, or extravagant light displays, it was just SZA in front of the mic doing her thing. She’s funny, personable, has some great dance moves, and sounds just as beautiful live as she does on her records.
It’s rare for artists to be able to harmonize with background vocals on the spot, and sing with such precision while dancing. Her performance did not come off as forced, the whole show appeared to be effortless and real. I admired that she opened each song with an explanation of why and how she wrote it. I remember her telling the crowd that the lyrics of “Drew Barrymore” had come to her after she attended a house party to see a boy she liked, but he ignored her presence, so she smoked an entire ounce of weed at the party to take her mind off of it. Before “Normal Girl,” she talked about how she grew up feeling awkward and wanted to change that. Self-deprecating and introspective remarks like these allowed the audience to laugh with her and feel the purpose of each song.
Some of her notable performances were definitely the ever popular, “The Weekend”, “Childs Play” off of her 2014 EP Z, as well as “Garden (Say it Like Dat),” “Love Galore,” and “Normal Girl” from Ctrl. At times it was difficult hearing her as the energy amongst everyone was vivacious, especially during the “The Weekend.”
I did not expect her to sing anything off of her EPs S (2013) or See.SZA.Run (2012), but I was disappointed that she only sang “Childs Play” and “HiiiJack” off of Z. Her show only ran an hour at most, and while her actual performance was great, I think that this crowd especially deserved a longer concert. I would have loved to hear “Julia” and “Sweet November” live. I understand that this tour was devoted to her Ctrl LP, but she could have at least performed a few more songs to lengthen the show. SZA’s concert ended with me being excited to have seen her, but slightly disappointed at how everything had ultimately panned out.
Much like the show, the following meet and greet did not go on without a hitch. The hundred of us who had purchased the V.I.P package congregated in the standing room area for about an hour after the concert. The show ended at around 10:15 and SZA did not start taking photos and meeting everyone until an hour later. After standing in line we finally got to meet her around the 11:45 mark. The meeting was brisk, but she was very sweet. However, as expected, it was incredibly formulaic: talk to her for a few moments, take a picture, leave and receive your goodie bag, complete with a Ctrl tour hat and signed poster.
SZA’s Wednesday performance was not without its technical and logistical issues, but it was enjoyable nonetheless. Was it the best concert I’ve been to? — definitely not, but I don’t regret purchasing the tickets. She connected with her audience, but after two delayed shows, I was left wanting more.