SZA, Auckland NZ, 2017

SZA 
9th January 2018
Logan Campbell Centre, Auckland, New Zealand.

Review by Sarah Kidd.

SZA performing live in Auckland, New Zealand 2017. Cell Phone image courtesy of Sarah Kidd.

With a multi Grammy award nominated debut album under her arm and a legion of fans at her back SZA rolled into Auckland tonight and delivered an absolute showstopper of a performance. Tickets had long since sold out with the original venue having to be quickly upgraded to something three times the capacity in order to accommodate demand; forget Willy Wonka and the golden ticket, SZA was where it was at.

The crowd was as diverse as it was large – with several recognisable faces including Teeks, P-Money and New Zealand’s own pop diva Theia seen among it – reflecting the diversity in SZA’s music that has seen her rise to fame so quickly. Fans who were smart enough to arrive early were soon treated to the sweet sounds of New Zealand’s own Bailey Wiley. Coming off the back of her recent performances at both Northern Bass and Wondergarden, she impressed all with not only her vocal talents but her onstage presence, and would have undoubtedly have walked away this evening with many a new recruit to her ever growing legion of fans.

By now the temperature within the confines of the Logan Campbell Centre was reaching its peak, those up in the seated section certainly feeling it more than most. But none of that seemed to matter as soon as the lights dropped; within seconds the darkness was pushed to the outer corners by the luminescence of thousands of phones held by feverish hands, desperate to capture those magical first few seconds of their idol walking out onto the stage. Indeed when SZA appeared it was hard not be taken aback by her sheer spirit and unbridled beauty; here standing before all was a woman that is confident in her own skin and it showed. Screams of approval ricocheted around the room, SZA obviously impressed as she beamed a smile back towards the crowd. Long hair like a waterfall and dressed in red and black – her oversized pants working in great contrast to her form fitting top – SZA looked every inch the R&B goddess that she has come to be and the audience could not get enough.

Born in Missouri in 1990, Solána Imani Rowe was (by her own admission) never one of the cool kids, she was however one of the best gymnasts in the United States. Following a period of study in liberal arts, Rowe eventually dropped out and self-released her first EP entitled See.SZA.Run in 2012. Self-releasing S in 2013 and SZA was starting to gain interest, soon catching the eye of music label Top Dawg under which she released her third EP entitled Z in 2014. By now she was gaining worldwide attention; SZA – which is short for ‘Saviour/Sovereign, Zig-Zag, Allah’ in case you were wondering – was indeed making her mark on the world. But, it was with her album Ctrl, released just last year that has seen her cement her place well and truly. Critically acclaimed and nominated for several awards, here finally was an artist that spoke with a clarity about the brutalities of love, relationships and the self-exploration involved with finding your place in the world; her songs resonating with many a fan both old and new – therefore it was the perfect choice to commence her set with ‘Supermodel’ the track nominated for best R&B song. A fascinating tale where SZA admits to sleeping with one of her ex’s ‘homeboys’ due to her broken heart, the song is visceral, it holds nothing back, within its lyrics is the story of a woman who questions her own desires and need to be wanted.

“What the fuck is up Auckland??” Her enthusiastic call to the fans met with a tidal wave of shrieking from the predominantly female audience. Moving straight into a run of tracks from Ctrl including ‘Anything’, ‘Broken Glass’ and the very popular ‘Go Gina’, SZA bounded around the stage with a lightness to her step that exuded joy. She genuinely appeared to be enjoying herself, her backing band comprising of her drummer Stix as well as a guitarist and keyboardist providing not only outstanding musical prowess but an overall continual ‘good vibe’ to the night.

While the set list leaned heavily on tracks from Ctrl, SZA didn’t disappoint her fans that have been with her from the beginning, dropping in a couple of older numbers from her EP Z. Spotting a fan in the audience with a sign sporting the song title ‘Ice Moon’ she acknowledged the fact that they were “deeply OG”, pointing out that she had not sung the song in almost four years.

In between serenading the audience with what can only be described as a near pitch perfect voice, SZA imbued her fans with tales of house parties that should never have been attended – NB she did it for a boy, almost everyone present nodding to themselves of how they have all been there at some point in their lives – and how one has to go through several transitions in life before one can truly find themselves. Her innate ability to converse with the fans on a level that felt like one of genuine equality was certainly a wonder to watch, SZA often coming down to the front row to touch an outstretched hand or to sing to a particular audience member that had caught her eye. One lucky fan even having a personal video recorded on their phone despite SZA’s admission that she had already broken three phones this year. The only let down of the night was the intermittent technical issues that SZA suffered, an issue that seems to be following her across this tour; while she worked her way through it with grace and wit it was never the less both distracting for her and her fans.

Following a roof raising rendition of ‘Love Galore’ (feat, Travis Scott), SZA spoke with earnest to all the “twenty-somethings” in the crowd, letting them know that it’s ok to still be working things out and that those that are older than you don’t always know better, as they are often still trying to find themselves too. Never had a truer word been spoken …

Closing on ’20 Something’ SZA sang like a gospel choir was stowed away in her chest, singing the words “god bless you, god bless you all” like she would to a beloved family member. While fans were left wanting in regards to an encore, a lucky few against the barrier were granted a few more moments with SZA herself as she made her way down to hug as many as she could.

There are few shows that can leave you with a sense of empowerment and self-worth but this one sure hit the mark.

Were you there at the Logan Campbell Centre for this brilliant R&B gig? Or have you seen SZA somewhere else before? Tell us about it in the comments below!

Setlist:
  1. Supermodel
  2. Anything
  3. Broken Clocks
  4. Go Gina
  5. Drew Barrymore
  6. Hiiijack
  7. Child’s Play
  8. Normal Girl
  9. Doves In The Wind
  10. Wavy
  11. Garden (Say It Like Dat)
  12. Love Galore
  13. The Weekend
  14. 20 Something

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