SZA delivered an electrifying performance on her SOS Tour at Capital One Arena Monday in her first solo show in the DMV since her debut tour in 2017.
After a nearly six-year hiatus from live shows at roughly 1,000-person venues, the anticipation was high for SZA’s first-ever arena tour of her acclaimed sophomore album “SOS.” Supported by opener and Grammy-nominee Omar Apollo, SZA exceeded her fans’ highest expectations with a concert that felt more like a full-fledged production than just any musical performance.
As the show opened, fans could hear SZA’s voice singing unreleased “PSA” while visuals of crashing waves flashed on the screen in front of the stage. The screen elevated to reveal SZA sitting on a diving board emulating the cover of “SOS” – an ode to the famous 1997 photo of Princess Diana. The screen soon lowered once again, illuminating the silhouette of a woman who tossed her microphone into the surrounding ocean before diving in headfirst. Fans cheered as the screen read “PRESENTING THE SOS TOUR STARRING SZA.”
Before the crowd could register the impeccable opening to what would be an unforgettable performance, SZA was back onstage once again – this time on the ground singing “Seek & Destroy,” the third track on “SOS.” The crowd of more than 20,000 attendees screamed along as SZA sang the opening lines – “You push me past my own capacity, boy / Permission to crash, collecting damages, boy,” sending high-voltage energy up and down the arena.
SZA performed “Blind,” which examines the ways her toxic past relationships affected her reputation and self-worth as the screen behind her depicted a beach with shipwrecked materials. An interlude of “Smoking on My Ex Pack” played on the screen as the set shifted for Act II of the show.
The screen lifted to reveal a massive ship that took up almost the entire stage with the illusion of water below it. SZA arose at the head of the ship as she sang “All the Stars,” an Oscar-nominated song she recorded with Kendrick Lamar for the Black Panther movie soundtrack. Following an energetic performance, SZA performed the fan-favorite track “Prom” from her debut album “Ctrl.” The upbeat track delves into the nuances of growing up – “Am I doing enough? / Feel like I’m wasting time.” Fans sang along to every word of the self-reflective song, most of them hearing it live for the first time.
The sun rose behind the ship as the opening notes of “F2F” played, and SZA energetically returned on stage to sing the Avril Lavigne-esque pop-rock track. SZA has always been an experimental, genre-bending artist, but fans were shocked to hear such a hard-hitting rock song sandwiched between slower, introspective R&B songs on “SOS.” The floor section ascended in spirit as they sang the chorus – “Get a rise out of watching you fall / Get a kick out of missing your call / I hate me enough for the two of us / Hate that I can’t let go of you enough.”
SZA juxtaposed her most impassioned performance yet with one of her slowest, most intimate songs, “Drew Barrymore.” The 2017 track is inspired by ’90s rom-coms like “Never Been Kissed” starring Barrymore and examines power dynamics and self-esteem. SZA sat cross-legged at the edge of the stage as she affectionately sang the lyrics to the crowd.
Waves crashed below the ship and lightning struck as a musical interlude played through the transition to Act III of the show. SZA stepped onto a raft onstage, which suddenly rose into the air, suspended above the audience. She threw handfuls of white rose petals into the crowd in a touching moment as she began singing the ballad “Special,” making her way toward a lighthouse at the opposite end of the arena.
“Thank you for coming to hear me sing about my breakups,” SZA said as she entered a brief monologue to the audience. She said she “spent a lot of time” in the DMV during her time as a student at Delaware State, which amassed cheers from the crowd. The 33-year-old R&B superstar then belted out another ballad – “Nobody Gets Me” – as the raft hung at the lighthouse in the center of the crowd.
The raft began to move again to the opening notes of “Gone Girl,” a track inspired by the 2014 film of the same name. Although the entire spectacle and production value was beyond impressive, SZA’s stripped-down vocal performance was the true star of Act III. Her powerful voice echoed throughout the arena as she sang “I need more space and security / I need less voices, just you and me / I need your touch, not your scrutiny / Squeezing too tight, boy you’re losing me” while waving to audience members gazing up from below.
Act IV brought the most fun, highly anticipated tracks like “Kiss Me More,” a duet with Doja Cat that became the longest-running all-female top 10 collaboration in Billboard Hot 100 history in 2021. As SZA sang the song accompanied by a recording of Doja Cat’s vocals, a colorful neon coral reef complete with aquatic fish appeared on the screen behind her to create a nautical illusion.
But one of the most electrifying moments of the entire show came when SZA performed her viral track “Kill Bill,” which earned her a top spot on the Billboard Global 200 for the first time in her career this year. The satirical murder-confession song has amassed billions of views and more than 200,000 videos on TikTok with fans lip-syncing to “I might kill my ex / Not the best idea / His new girlfriend’s next, how’d I get here?”
SZA closed the show on an optimistic note with “Good Days,” the first single from “SOS” released two years before the album. She sat in a bright yellow gown on the same diving board where she initially opened the show. The screen behind her depicted a rising sun and a calm sea before transitioning into nightfall with a stunning sky featuring bright colors and planets.
As the platform slowly elevated and SZA disappeared behind the stage, twinkling stars spelled out “The End” in cursive while the credits rolled. The SOS Tour was well worth the six-year wait – SZA has proven she can do it all, from intricate storytelling to a movie-level production to gorgeous vocals. After Monday’s performance, the District will be not-so-patiently waiting for her return.
This article appeared in the March 2, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.