Everyone at the Roseland Theater knew how lucky they are to be seeing Lizzo on Friday night. The singer, who released her fantastic album Cuz I Love You earlier this month, sold out her entire tour months before the record was even released. Buying a ticket then, based the joy of “Juice” and brilliance of her EPs, felt like knowing a huge secret about to break free. For those who have been following her career for the past several years, Cuz I Love You is the fulfillment of a prophecy. Lizzo is a f*cking superstar.
This show, like all the others she’s playing on the first leg of her Cuz I Love You tour, was held at a venue that felt preciously small. Portland, OR’s Roseland Theater holds 1400 at capacity, a charmingly grimy venue with an immediate personality. Despite my friend’s warning of the unique atmosphere at the Roseland, I was still surprised when I walked in and see that it looks like I’ve time traveled back to 1986 and I’m in for a midnight screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The paint is peeling in the lobby and there’s an abandoned concession stand in the corner, but the humble venue just added to the thrill. As soon as she stepped on that stage, our feet couldn’t feel the beer-sticky floor.
I missed the majority of opener Tayla Parx‘s set, but I walked in just as the audience was winding down from her final song. Parx is a huge star on the rise herself, riding the high of writing two of the biggest songs of 2018 (Khalid and Normani’s “Love Lies” and Ariana Grande’s “Thank U, Next“) and having just released her debut album We Need To Talk. Her bubbly rap-pop is the perfect match for Lizzo’s, and the dance floor felt electric even after she stepped off the stage.
Lizzo opened her own set with the bursting, bold “Cuz I Love You.” The opening song on her new record, “Cuz I Love You” is a striking statement of feeling and display of Lizzo’s vocal power. She walked onto the stage at the Roseland and immediately owns it. She belted and cried pretty much the entire first song, telling the audience exactly how this show is going to be – a no-holds-barred, ecstatic celebration of feeling. We danced and had the time of our lives from minute one.
Lizzo’s set moved with the efficiency and fluidity of a ballet. Her set covered everything from early deep cuts (“En Love” isn’t even on Spotify) to non-album singles like “Boys,” seamlessly stitched together with great transition instrumentals. Lizzo’s music is definitely retro-inspired, and many of her songs call to mind classic disco, Motown, and hip-hop anthems. In her live performances, Lizzo takes that and runs with it, interpolating bits of other songs into her own. She covers a couple lines of Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” in “Worship Me,” and a little of Donna Summer’s “Bad Girls” before “Fitness.” She has an extended conversation with the audience with instrumentals that sound suspiciously like T-Pain’s “Buy U A Drank” playing behind her. I turned to my friend and start to ask, “Is this ‘Buy U A Drank’?” before Lizzo answers my question herself with an excellent mini-cover that would make T-Pain shake.
Most other musicians could learn from her easy rapport with the audience. Pre-song interjections are, in less adept hands, awkward and disrupt the flow of the show, but Lizzo’s feel like a natural extension of her music. Cuz I Love You is an intensely felt record, and Lizzo’s intros feel more like conversations with a friend than they do monologues. She’s the ultimate hype woman, showering the audience with compliments and imploring us to realize our own power. Her words are inspiring and delivered with such earnestness that I was almost moved to tears.
Lizzo’s music is inseparable from her identity as a Black woman with curves, and her show is a religious experience for anyone who intersects with any of those identities. Before the celebratory “Soulmate,” Lizzo told the white men of the crowd (if there even are any, I certainly don’t see them) to step aside and let others have a seat at the table. “I’m not saying take them out,” Lizzo said to roaring applause. “I’m saying move your ass to the side and let me step in!”