Sydney Opera House, January 6
There are kiss-offs and there are kiss-offs. There are ones where the victim lies metaphorically gutted in the street, sliced up by a sharp tongue; ones where the anger is palpable, not really controllable, and everyone leaves splashed by blood; and some which wallow in regret and second-thoughts, even as the goodbye is delivered.
None of those are Lizzo’s way, and the difference is one key explanation for her appeal.
Good As Hell, which opened the show, is a kiss-off where the move is one of self-care and self-reward, moving beyond the advice that “If he don’t love you anymore/Just walk your fine ass out the door” to the in-control satisfaction of “I do my hair toss, check my nails/Baby how you feelin?/Feeling good as hell”. In short: to thine own self be true.
Which is why in this “no shame zone” of the Concert Hall, there is no embarrassment in demanding not only that you get some attention, ahem, down there, but that it be effective (the buoyant Minneapolis sound of Worship Me, which segued briefly into Aretha’s version of Respect); admitting that you aren’t feeling great just because everyone wants you to (the harder edge of Exactly How I Feel); and just revelling in the attention under – or over, or off – the covers from a line of admirers (the jangle guitar funk, all hips and groin, of Boys, or the odd angles & Missy Elliott/Timbaland sparse rhythm of Tempo).
And that’s how a Lizzo show rolls: ‘70s soul, ‘80s funk, ‘90s hip hop and 21st century R&B pop moulded into joy-filled messages of affirmation whether you’re black, white, brindle; tall, wide, spindly; straight, queer, flexible – or, yes, old, male and shaky.
I mean, who could resist the electro-pop exuberance of Juice, or for that matter the self-possession of Like A Girl with its deathless couplet “Only exes that I care about are in my fucking chromosomes/I don’t really need you, I’m Macaulay Culkin, home alone”? Especially when it’s delivered by someone who can rock a flute solo as comfortably as she twerks, and all with a look over the shoulder of “isn’t this just the best fun?”.
A look it should be remembered delivered to an audience so primed and pumped they could be a daytime TV studio expecting A NEW CAR for you and you and you, or a high-on-Kool-Aid cult ready to repeat “I love myself as much as Lizzo loves Lizzo”.
That locked-in audience did mean Lizzo could get away with some less than ideal elements, in particular a sound mix which undercut the effectiveness of songs such as Boys, Juice and the booming ballad, Jerome, by letting her voice merge into the background in the verses, leaving them to be elevated by the hooks of the pre-choruses and rescued by the power runs of the choruses.
This sound issue can only partly be attributed to the usual problems for newcomer mixers in this room as in truth there were fewer variables than normal with Lizzo’s trusty DJ, Sophia Eris, triggering everything from pre-recorded tapes.
I couldn’t help thinking about how good this show might sound with live brass and bass, human-propelled drums and keys, to go with the four dancers and the high energy, even if these mixing issues could flare up more strongly.
But then given this was a gig which really could have been in a much bigger room such was the demand - I’m still in fear of my teenage nephew’s wrath for not taking him as he was one of many thousands who couldn’t score a ticket – it’s probable the next time we see Lizzo she’ll have upped the ante in all aspects.
After all, as she told us in the farewell Truth Hurts – yes, another in control kiss-off – “Yeah, I got … problems, that’s the human in me/Bling bling, then I solve ‘em, that’s the goddess in me”.
A version of this review originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald.