Olivia Rodrigo offers catharsis and empathy during homecoming show

At 19, Olivia Rodrigo has already scored two No. 1 singles. She hangs out with the president at the White House. She has won three Grammy Awards, including the coveted Best New Artist award.

What the pop sensation hadn’t done until Tuesday was perform a real concert in Los Angeles, not far from where she grew up as a child actor in Temecula.

That changed with the first of two sold-out hometown shows at the Greek Theater on a world tour – Rodrigo’s high-profile arc as a live performer – behind his resounding debut in 2021, “Sour”. And if that meant the night held some emotional weight for a singer who quickly grew accustomed to success, she didn’t try to hide it from her audience.

“When I was a little kid, like in grade school, my parents would drive for hours to take me to acting classes in Los Angeles,” Rodrigo told the crowd, his eyes full of joy, then that she presented “Driver’s License”, the gloriously dramatic piano ballad that made her an instant star two Januarys ago. “We would go for a hike in Griffith Park after every class, and I would always point to the Greek theater and say to my mom and dad, ‘One day I’m going to play there.'”

The big feelings continued as Rodrigo made an impassioned plea for tougher gun control laws in the wake of Tuesday’s school shooting in Texas and brought one of her hero, Alanis Morissette, on stage for a surprise rendition of Morissette’s landmark “You Oughta Know.”

“It was the best night of my life,” Rodrigo said, a little tearfully again, at the end of the hour-long gig.

Although she may have been overwhelmed by the circumstances, Rodrigo actually seemed to be in complete control on Tuesday: It was an impressive performance – tight, snappy and punchy – by a digitally savvy artist from the pandemic era. who is only now discovering how to translate his music to an IRL setting.

Wisely, she kept the scale of the show quite modest. Backed by an all-female band of five, she walked through a stage set up with gym bleachers and a disco ball — think ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ meets ‘Yellowjackets’ — and changed her outfit just once. time, from a punky corset-and-combat boots to a pink tulle ballgown that her mother (or maybe her grandmother) might have worn in the 1980s.

Olivia Rodrigo at the Greek Theatre.

(Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times)

When Rodrigo announced his tour in December, many fans complained that his decision to visit theaters instead of arenas had let them down. Indeed, some at The Greek – where celebrities in attendance included Adam Sandler and Tobey Maguire, both presumably there with their daughters – said they had paid thousands of dollars for tickets on the secondary market.

Still, the relatively comfortable environment was a boon to Rodrigo. Freed from having to fill a huge show dome designed for cheap seats, she focused on her strengths: the solid songs of “Sour”, which she played all 11, and her ability to sing them in live almost as well as she did. in the studio.

A proud child of the musical, Rodrigo broke into show business as part of the Disney smiley industrial complex. But his own music is more moody and slightly grittier, with echoes of 90s grunge and 2000s pop-punk; its slower and quieter descend from Taylor Swift, whose detailed examinations of romance and betrayal have shaped Gen Z songwriters as indelibly as Carole King and Joni Mitchell have made Gen X talents. who followed them.

Dueting with Morissette, Rodrigo clearly relished the once-outrageous F-bomb drop in “You Oughta Know” — a flourish she borrowed to great cathartic effect (though far less catchy) for “Driver’s License.” At The Greek, she also covered Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” in the early 2000s, which was affectionate but lacked the emotional intensity of the rest of her set; it also seemed to fall into some kind of hell for an audience full of teenage girls and boys – too old to feel modern, too new to feel classic.

The frankly confessional tone of songs such as “Traitor,” “Happier” and “Enough for You” — each of which she performed expertly, knowing just when to push her voice and when to relax — is a natural aesthetic choice for a member of a generation that grew up and is being rewarded with likes for unloading on social media.

Yet Rodrigo has also shown a more mature gift of empathy. “Hope Ur OK,” about a series of vulnerable characters in hostile family situations, was deeply moving as it tenderly backed itself on acoustic guitar. And your heart almost broke hearing him describe the madness in Texas – “We should never have to worry about our safety or our lives in places dedicated to learning and growing,” he said. – she said to huge applause – just weeks after she weighed in on another show about the importance of abortion rights.

Rodrigo finished with “Good 4 U,” which followed “Drivers License” to the top of Billboard’s Hot 100, albeit by a different route: rather than expressing bewilderment at how an ex “could be so good now that I’m gone,” as she puts it in “Driver’s License,” the searing “Good 4 U” lands on a solution to the same problem, namely that her ex is obviously “a fucking sociopath.”

Here, after a crisp instrumental clearance, Rodrigo ripped through the song like she’d been waiting to savor her drop in front of thousands of adoring fans — and like she’d known all along that she’d eventually get the chance.

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