Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Lizzo enthralls in her first show headlining First Avenue

Photos by Bridget Bennett for MPR

Clearly still buzzing from the ringing success of her first headlining show at First Ave last night, Lizzo took to Twitter to shower adoring fans with emojis and retweets. It was a meaningful capper to a big night for the rising rap powerhouse, who sold out the Mainroom ahead of the event on the strength of her name alone.

The only other artist to play a set was Sophia Eris, Lizzo’s longtime back-up vocalist and DJ, who debuted some new music of her own just before hitting the stage to spin. She unveiled some of her collaborations with producer Prophis — music with throwback rap/R&B hybridity, à la TLC — before hopping onstage to hype the crowd. She bookended her DJ set with songs by Beyoncé, of whom Lizzo is clearly a student. The DJ set kicked off, appropriately, with the brand-new song “Formation” (which took over the Internet earlier that day) and ended with “Run The World (Girls).” Bopping and lip-syncing along to her wide-ranging rap selections, Sophia Eris was a joy to watch take over the Mainroom, and a fitting choice as the sole opener.

The anticipation in the Mainroom was heavy until Lizzo finally stormed the stage confidently to the pounding crunch of “Ain’t I,” the opener to her newest record Big GRRRL, Small World, which she proceeded to perform in its entirety. Her impressive charisma and star power was immediately evident. The capacity audience watched with rapt attention as Lizzo stomped through the blistering beginning track, accompanied by her pair of back-up dancers; DJ Sophia Eris; live keyboards by Eric Mayson; and upright and electric bass by James Buckley — all of which added depth to BJ Burton’s already expansive production.

A smile rarely left Lizzo’s face, and it was clear she was having fun bringing her new material to her local audience. She reminded everyone why it took until now to celebrate the album, which came out in December: her tours with Sleater-Kinney and SZA, and her appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, which has served to raise her national profile and draw some much-deserved attention to her unique brand of rap. “But we represent the Twin Cities!” she shouted with pride.

There’s a dynamic range to Lizzo’s latest solo outing, allowing her to transition among spitfire bars, torch-song intimacy, and boisterous belting — often within the same song. The energetic hugeness Lizzo brought to bangers like “En Love” and “Ride” was matched by the emotional honesty she achieved on tracks like “Humanize” or “1 Deep” (which included a powerful ending chorus from Mayson on piano and vocals, and some particularly stunning chair dancing from the two dancers). As strong as the whole group’s involvement was, the breakdown at the end of “Bother Me” was a powerful moment of solo vocal performance that solidified Lizzo’s strength without any of the surrounding flash.

Eventually joined by her GRRRL PRTY companions Manchita, Sophia Eris, and DJ Shannon Blowtorch for a brief trio of songs from that group’s catalog, Lizzo also proved her ability to share the spotlight and contribute to a collective expression without overshadowing anyone.

A breathless excitement about the moment seemed to overcome Lizzo at various points, and she was thankful for everyone who was there and those that had been there since the days of the Chalice. “Thank you for supporting a woman of color,” she said at one point, tying the moment to the themes of Beyoncé’s latest video (“Ya’ll thought I wasn’t going to talk about it?”) before introducing the self-love anthem “My Skin” with a slow, subtle piano version of “Flawless.” “We worked hard for the money, honey,” she said after the crescendo of the powerful personal empowerment anthem. “I hope ya’ll don’t mind if I milk this now.”

Her hair cinematically blowing back as she bathed in the spotlight in her pristine white jacket, Lizzo looked majestic while espousing the value of self-love and black lives. Finishing with the bouncy banger “Jang a Lang,” she eventually returned for an encore that included a rendition of “Happy Birthday” with Caroline Smith in honor of cameo guest Har Mar Superstar, the duo’s effervescent “Let ‘Em Say,” and the closer “Batches and Cookies.” With a mastery of the various vocal techniques she employs, a firm handle on dance choreography and stage blocking, and a personal message of empowerment that’s genuinely inspiring, Lizzo proved herself once again as a full-fledged artist who commands the stage with the magnetism of the all-time greats.

Set list
Ain’t I
Bother Me
The Fade
1 Deep
The Realest
En Love
GRRRL Anthem (with GRRRL PRTY)
Night Watch (with GRRRL PRTY)
Poppin’ (with GRRRL PRTY)
My Skin
Jang A Lang
Let ‘Em Say (with Caroline Smith)
Batches and Cookies (with Sophia Eris)

Jack Spencer is a music writer based in the Twin Cities. Photographer Bridget Bennett is a student at the University of Minnesota — Twin Cities.