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Friday, September 30, 2022

Olivia Rodrigo’s Punky Heartbreak Revue is a one-woman show about heartbreak

When it comes to her career as a pop artist, Olivia Rodrigo comes from a family of meticulous dissectors and wild shredders, as well as the tormented and the angsty. Despite the fact that her first album, “Sour,” was one of the year’s best releases and one of the most promising pop arrival notifications in recent memory, she manages to make highly personal songs seem like the excuse for a scuffle with calm and confidence.

While performing onstage at the Theater of the Clouds at the Moda Center here on Tuesday night as part of her Sour Tour, she began by attempting to reconcile these conflicting emotions from the beginning of the performance. Her entrance was heralded by heavy guitar smears, which set off the eye-rolling, heavy breathing teen-misery song “Brutal,” which was followed by the raging “Jealousy, Jealousy” and “Jealousy, Jealousy.”

“Drivers License” was the tune that had made all of this possible, so Rodrigo sat down at the piano she’d been ignoring and leaned into it with all of his might. With its message of absolute loneliness, it was published in early January 2021 and quickly became a pandemic megasmash as well as the most significant pop song of the year, catapulting Rodrigo from a small Disney show star to the centre of a global cultural firestorm.

She took her time with it here, showcasing the piercing thickness of her voice even as it seemed that everyone of the few thousand individuals in attendance was attempting to outsing her at every opportunity. Then she sighed and grinned as she said that “the song got a Grammy like two days ago,” which she thought was funny.

Rodrigo took home three awards in all, including best new artist, rounding up a whirlwind 15-month period of triumphant creativity. However, because of the epidemic, she had yet to play in front of a room full of thousands of loving admirers who had come to see her alone, despite the widespread accolades she had garnered.

Despite the fact that it was a large gathering, this rowdy, cathartic coming-out celebration was reasonable in scale. Every song from the album “Sour,” as well as a number of covers, were performed in little under one hour. There is very little production, with just gym bleachers on each side of the stage and a disco ball towering large over the audience. And, despite the fact that her hits might have easily filled stadiums, Rodrigo is beginning with a more modestly sized audience.

Her solo acoustic guitar performance on a medley of “Enough for You” and “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back,” as well as the hesitant “Favorite Crime,” demonstrated just how massive her private songs could be at certain points. She was just as believable when she let free, as she was on the rollicking upturned middle finger “Good 4 U” that she performed. The visceral bloodletting of “Traitor” alternated between coffeehouse calm and arena bombastic, and it was as effective in all ways of presentation.

“Happier,” the topic of a sad prom, was played by a roaring all-female band, giving her songs a viscous viscosity: “Hope Ur OK,” a sorrowful thematic outlier on the record, was throbbingly sombre, prompting many to throw lighted smartphones into the air.

Rodrigo performed two well-chosen covers at this show: “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne, who has spent her entire career cloaking her pinpoint pop instincts in punk aesthetics, and Veruca Salt’s “Seether,” a pillar of grunge-adjacent alt-rock that was the one moment when Rodrigo appeared out of her depth, her irate vocals unable to cut through the band’s unbridled abandon.

After years of struggling to regain her footing in the live music industry, Rodrigo is now able to enjoy some of the more enjoyable aspects of celebrity life. First and foremost, there is the unpredictability of live performance: There were several missed signals throughout the call-and-response sequence, but Rodrigo appeared to take a humorous approach to the situation. In addition, she has earned the devotion of her followers, for whom she has become a proxy best friend: “Don’t contact him,” Rodrigo advised a young lady who had approached him with a placard seeking for romantic guidance. And then there’s the satisfaction of finally, definitively breaking through the suffocating rictus of kid celebrity: An embarrassed mother tried in vain to shield her daughter’s ears each time Rodrigo arrived on the cursing section of “Drivers License,” and every young lady in the room joined in with the chorus.

Rodrigo spent much of the night either sitting or running, but towards the conclusion of the act, she seemed to be more at peace with herself. “Deja Vu” begins with her lying on top of the piano, her voice rising to the heavens with each note she sung. She raced up to the drums just as “Good 4 U,” the night’s closing song, was about to draw to a close, and started pounding away on a cymbal, a taste of all the liberties she would soon experience.

Jonathan James
I serve as a Senior Executive Journalist of The National Era
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