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SZA’s SOS Tour At Madison Square Garden, March 4th, 2023, Reviewed

With the world at her feet, the number one album of the year -number one for nine weeks and counting, and an instant sell out tour, this is SZA’s moment and night after night she grabs it with a 90 minute concert of world domination and drowning in a blue world. However, the rock opera-y concept of the show doesn’t mesh with the story of a ship (er, boat) wreck. It doesn’t matter that much, and we get at least two aspects of the story

1 – Born Solána Imani Rowein St. Louis, SZA was studying to be a marine biologist when success (and a relationship with Drake) got in the way

2 – She is replicating the album cover

With those two elements in place , the concept congeals as much as it lets loose, during the first song of the evening, the unreleased “PSA”, she is sitting on a diving board too far out at sea and not waving (it’s all done with mirrors and chemicals) before jumping into the ocean as night kicks into gear.

The metaphor, SZA’s journey from postgrad to pop mega, doesn’t function quite as she sings romantic entanglements and bad vibes; college must have been real interesting as she negs one guy after another and only her sex drive keeps her in place. The 20 something black and white mostly female (90%) audience were with her word for word and followed her all the way to “I’m so mature…” the hook of 2023. But it was overcooked and while we get that SZA has been at this in one form or another since 2010 she would have been better off with a straight presentation: everything kept tripping on its own feet.

Yet what a night! She had featured guest aboard including Phoebe Bridgers and then a show stopping heart pounding performance by Cardi B (it left SZA genuflecting) on “Do It”. This was not quite a coming out party (TDE at MSG in 2018 was a coming out party here) but with three musicians to the side, a lot of tape and four dancers and three of the top female singers in the country, it cemented her position at the top of heap with only Beyonce left as competition -and SOS is a much better album than Renaissance if not Lemonade).

Romance in 2023 is a disaster and SZA gets it completely as she is more than willing to kill her ex or fuck any guy who she can feel a connection to be kept warm inside. Earlier, in the evening Omar Apollo -the lo-fi Mexican American singer songwriter, was straightforward and powerful and made himself a boatload of fans. Of course, MSG was too big for him and Omar couldn’t fill it. But he could dance and he did, he nailed the hits as they stood, and the handsome 24 year old crooner broke many a heart in his 45 minute set, he nailed all his best moments including the epic set closer “Evergreen”.

SZA has a chill factor at 11 except when you catch her lyrics she isn’t that chill, she moves from one lousy relationship to another with a side of lovers on the down low: nobody expresses female sexuality with the clarity that SZA does, women love her because she does it her way. The average concert starts with a coupla hits, lulls into the middle, and ends with more hits but SZA wasn’t tethered to her stream counts, throughout the evening the hits were dotted about the landscape: yes, there was “Kill Bill” and there was “Drew Barrymore” and “Supermodel” from 2017’s debut, CTRL, and “Love Galore” with the audience roaring along to another wrecked affair:

Why you bother me when you know you don’t want me? (Yeah)
Why you bother me when you know you got a woman? (Yeah)

SZA speaks so directly about her, and other women’s, concerns over men who just aren’t worth it. Apparently, SZA isn’t the only person sick of men as the young audience embraced every confusion, sexual urge, stand up and heartbreak. Her songs are spotted with insert yourself for women, and her words are aphorisms from the set opening “do it to you” to the set closing “Good Day”

I try to keep from losin’ the rest of me
I worry that I wasted the best of me on you, babe
You don’t care

SZA wasn’t talkative and her pacing was excellent with seven costume changes that never put the set in stall mode, she went from dropping in the ocean to riding on a boat in a storm to leaving on a lifeboat and singing from the top of MSG with a lighthouse pointing her home. I’ve seen SZA several times and the sense of event is exactly what interests us, this wasn’t a victory lap it was victorious period.

Yet, it was not everything it could have been. It could have been life changing, she has the skills, but it was too crafted, too precise, she lacked looseness and the night was tightly coiled explorations of men’s shittiness as romance on the rocks is a shipwreck.

Grade: B+

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