On Tuesday night, SZA, the fresh face of female rhythm & blues (R&B), brought her breezy vibe to The Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. Her debut studio album, “Ctrl” was released on June 9, catapulting her into the spotlight with hit song “Love Galore,” featuring Travis Scott. Debuting at No. 3 on the Billboard 200 chart, “Ctrl” marked a transition from the subdued sounds of SZA’s prior mixtapes and extended player (EP) to more vibrant, mainstream beats and melodies.
Given the album’s success, it’s no surprise that SZA not only sold out her San Francisco leg of the “Ctrl” tour, but had to relocate from The Regency Ballroom to the larger Warfield Theatre because of popular demand.
Ravyn Lenae opened the show with a less-refined SZA vibe of wavy R&B beats and ethereal, melodic vocals. Smino, the second opener, brought a little more energy with a live band and passionate flows. However, the crowd’s minimal, though well-intentioned, head-bobbing and cheering during the openers made it clear that the packed audience was mainly there for SZA.
Between sets, the albeit slightly pushy crowd still amicably joined together in sing-a-longs of the Fugee’s “Killing Me Softly,” Cardi B’s “Bodak Yellow,” and Kendrick Lamar’s “Humble,” among others. However, despite the DJ’s best efforts, the anticipation could only be kept at bay for so long. Just as the sweaty, smoky pit was getting a little too antsy for comfort — one man was wrestled out by security for inappropriately touching girls — the dramatic red curtains opened to reveal the band and large block letters made of fake grass spelling out “CTRL.” The lights dimmed, the crowd went crazy, “CTRL” lit up in a neon red outline, and out pranced SZA, cup in hand, crooning the first track off her album, “Supermodel.”
She sported an eccentric pencil dress printed with an image of the Hindu god Vishnu, and an oversized denim shirt that was quintessentially SZA. Her bubbly, carefree personality radiated on stage and into the crowd, and her signature glittery eyeshadow and glossy lip similarly shined. Keeping the energy high, she breezed through three more “Ctrl” tracks: “Anything,” “Broken Clocks,” and “Go Gina,” as the crowd enthusiastically sang along. Prior to delving into “Drew Barrymore,” the first single off “Ctrl,” SZA described the experience that inspired the song: going to a party she didn’t really want to just to see a boy, but he brought another girl.
In a nod to the fans that have been there since before she was killing it on the main stage of the Black Entertainment Television awards or a nominee for Best New Artist at the Video Music Awards (or her songs were being used in Beyoncé’s Instagram videos), SZA threw it back with two of her more popular tracks off of her EP “Z”: “HiiiJack” and “Child’s Play,” even rap-singing Chance the Rapper’s verse.
She ran through several more “Ctrl” tracks, maintaining a joyful, dynamic presence on the stage as she spun and bounced around, expressing her love for San Francisco and the individual fans she could see in the crowd between songs. Before “Doves in the Wind,” iconic for its near every-line repetition of “pussy,” she cheekily asked, “Who wants to talk about vagina?
“Who wants to talk about vagina?” – @sza
*drops doves in the wind*
— Just Theo ㋛ (@itsJustTheo) September 20, 2017
Haha gn San Fransisco! til nextime ? https://t.co/adUC8y5LcY
— SZA (@sza) September 20, 2017
SZA replies to a fan referencing her intro to “Doves in the Wind.”
After hyping the crowd back up with “Wavy (Interlude),” SZA explained that the next song, “Garden (Say It Like Dat),” was inspired by a “weird-ass personal transition” where she would “compartmentalize” parts of herself.
“I know, I’m fucking crazy and shit,” she giggled, before launching into the track’s tender opening line “Need you for the old me, need you for my sanity.”
Before singing perhaps her most popular songs of the night, “Love Galore” and “The Weekend,” SZA accepted a bouquet of roses from a fan, and sweetly signed a few fan items. After running through “Love Galore” once, she sang a hyped-up encore to a double-time beat and in a higher key.
As she was about to begin the last song of the night, a fan near the front shouted out for her to sing “Sobriety,” another throwback single. After the democratic process of “if at least ten people in the crowd want me to,” SZA launched into an acapella rendition of the song.
SZA closed her set with the emotive last track of “Ctrl,” “20 Something,” dedicating it to all the 20-somethings in the crowd. She changed the lyric “hoping to keep the rest of my friends,” to “our friends,” beautifully uniting the venue. It seemed to perfectly match the line in the chorus of “God bless these 20 somethings” as the crowd sang the echo of “God bless, oh God bless, oh God bless, oh…”
This nostalgic exchange between SZA and the crowd summed up the reason we were all here: to bask in the pure vulnerability of SZA’s artistry, through which we all seemed to find common ground.
In all, the night was weirdly and wonderfully SZA, equal parts authentic vocals, wavy beats, spontaneous dance moves, and bouncing copper curls, flawlessly bound together by her warm, glowing personality.