At the Greek, Olivia Rodrigo’s tour was something to shout about

Olivia Rodrigo probably isn’t asking to be compared to Paul McCartney. No one would wish that on a superstar – we can call him that now, can’t we? – who just turned 19 three months ago. But with Rodrigo’s two sold-out appearances at The Greek this week so closely following the last major gig in the Los Angeles market, Paul McCartney’s SoFi Stadium show two weeks ago, it was tough for the subset admittedly restrained of those of us who have attended both not to find at least some correlations. Starting with the high dB levels among their respective crowds. McCartney, for her part, needs to do a little cheering to really turn the low-pitched roar into something higher-pitched: “Come on, girls, give us a Beatles shoutout!” he implored shyly at one point, as he does every night on this tour. But Rodrigo’s crowd needed no encouragement to scare off the tar of cougars that might be lurking in the nearby hills of Griffith Park. They also use their words when they shout: imagine if all those early Beatles fans could have channeled their cacophony into piercing but pitch-perfect recitations of “Things We Said Today.”

With Rodrigo, it’s “Brutal”-mania – not a simulation, but the real thing (to twist an old theatrical slogan).

Having established a commonality, we can recognize how hilarious these two engagements were in contrast to other fairly obvious ways. Every time McCartney hits the road these days, he has to squeeze hundreds of songs from a career spanning six decades into a set that will last a generous 160 minutes. Shows on Rodrigo’s very first tour, meanwhile, will hit 60… and that’s with choice padding (a few blankets; an in-between costume change and a bit of band vamping) to push him there at Starting at 35, it would last if she only made a direct run from her debut album, “Sour.” It took some of us longer to get out of the Greek hillside parking lots and down to Los Feliz Blvd. later than he did to experience his performance.

Olivia Rodrigo performs onstage during her ‘Sour’ Tour at Greek Theater on May 24, 2022 in Los Angeles, California.
Christopher Polk for PMC

But as any punk-rock veteran can tell you – or probably anyone who’s seen Beatles performances in the blink of an eye and you’ll miss it back then! — fast can be good, terribly good, when it’s fast and intense. You wouldn’t call Rodrigo’s whole show fast and furious, not when pop-punky opener, “Brutal,” and closer, “Good 4 U,” served to reserve plenty of slow ballads and acoustic numbers and even a goddamn waltz. The smile that was plastered on his face didn’t belie a grim determination of spirit either, exactly. Let’s also talk about Rodrigo’s touring fashion sense: Plaid — it just doesn’t look angry. Smiles aside, though, this is a crowd that doesn’t just utter the words loudly: it’s a 90% all-girl congregation – a Greek choir – that you can feel literalizing the words, thinking back to their first heartbreak, which may have been a month ago, or yearning for a first, and saying “eff you” to The Man, even if it came in the form of a mute boy.

When you have nearly 6,000 girls (and a couple hundred guys, probably, of course, and pockets of friendly elders old enough to be their ancestors) bellowing the words of a post-Disney, riot-grrl anthem believable as “Brutal”, how doesn’t that warm your rock ‘n’ roll heart? But to the credit of Rodrigo’s fan base, they also knew a real melody. The show’s most charming moment Wednesday night came when the star brought in “Sour” co-writer/producer Dan Nigro to perform the plaintive “Favorite Crime” with her as an acoustic voice actor. losing a lot of volume, followed the intricacies of the tune’s prettiest turns, even in the section towards the end where the rush of words quickens and Rodrigo begins to sing in a kind of double time.. So give this crowd under contract, already.

This “every song is a song to sing” mentality has ruined many gigs aimed at older demographics; Raise your hand, baby boomers, if you’ve ever had a gig ruined by drunks who thought they could sing “Desperado” better than Henley. But to be located in the middle of a real choir? It’s more of a rush than an annoyance.

And that doesn’t take away from the strength of Rodrigo’s performance, even though the audience had been muffled by a mute button. At the Greek, she came across as seasoned but preserved, knowing how to work the crowd by cheerfully jumping or kneeling to shake hands in the front row or even doing a bit of Michelle Pfeiffer atop the piano (something it may or may not have been around long enough to see). One might wonder if it’s a surprise or a given that she’s this pro at this point in her first tour, despite being that far from being a TV personality. There were reports earlier in the tour that she was showing signs of vocal fatigue, but it wasn’t evident on Wednesday, so either the choir was doing its job or it became a quick study to move on the road. .

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Olivia Rodrigo performs onstage during her “Sour” Tour at the Greek Theater on May 24, 2022
Christopher Polk for PMC

None of the aforementioned mania would matter if there weren’t some top-notch songwriting at the heart of it. After too many years of successful female artists being accused of being puppets of Svengalis – and many instances of male maestros being happy to play that role, or trying to – how refreshing it was to see Nigro come out on stage for a number and imagine that we may have reached an era where women become their own authors while recognizing how much they benefit from strong partnerships. At the risk of over-glorifying the A&R teamwork involved in letting a Rodrigo shine, between her and Billie Eilish, they’re kind of tied right now for the greatest artist development story ever told.

How good are the songs, now that we have some distance to reevaluate them, with “Sour” having just celebrated its first anniversary? They certainly hold up in concert, even if there aren’t as many older people experiencing it in a show as there are, say, at the concerts Eiliish recently performed at the Forum, where you saw many more unaccompanied adults than minors. . In a way, the youthful bias of his audience – with the exception of us, pockets of old timers, who eyed each other nervously like members of a secret society – speaks to the specificity of Rodrigo’s vision. . Not playing his age doesn’t seem to have crossed his mind, even though the music can get sophisticated at times. Few teenage artists would want to risk shutting out even slightly older audiences by starting an album (and a gig) by blurting out, “I’m so insecure, I think / That I’ll die before I drink.” If you’re over 21 and listening to this, or if you’re over 17 and listening to “Driver’s License”, this will hit you quickly: This blues is not necessarily my blues. But that never stopped anyone from enjoying a Howlin’ Wolf record, did it?

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Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Greek Theater, May 25, 2022
Chris Willman/Variety

There’s also plenty of “Sour” material that an adult audience could relate to without having to age-correct any of the lyrics. One of the less splashy highlights of the tour is the aforementioned waltz, “Happier,” which has a feeling that any divorcee or long-lost dad can probably relate to: that feeling that you want your ex survives, but not entirely unreasonably. Rhyming “her” with “-ier” throughout is one of those conceits that couldn’t be simpler on the one hand, and has the sophistication of showmanship on the other. The most teen-centric figures have their own moments of coming of age and/or just feeling gray. When, in the middle of “Brutal”, Rodrigo sings “Who am I, if not exploited?”, you may be thinking: what kind of kid says that? Well, a kid who’d rather not be locked into a third season of “High School Musical,” probably.

But there wasn’t much brutality at The Greek, where teenage angst seemed suspended in a state of grace, and an hour seemed just right for disaffection and adrenaline to come together. For anyone with an idea of ​​the bigger picture, it seemed all the more clear that Rodrigo’s massive success is part of a mini-golden age in which she, Eilish and Taylor Swift represent a new breed of more self-confident female pop idol, in which they can portray both the screamer and the howler. Do you remember that old movie that had the loaded title “The Devil is a Woman”? Maybe now is the time to look at these stars and embrace this thought: The Beatles are a woman.

Herman C. Harkins