Emotional shipwreck in San Francisco harbor: SZA ‘saves our souls’ at tour performance

As the lights dimmed in San Francisco’s Chase Center on Thursday night, renowned R&B artist SZA embarked on a 90-minute expedition for self-discovery and love. She opened the concert poised on the edge of an illuminated ship deck with the beeping Morse code for SOS sounding overhead. As she launched herself off the deck, catapulting herself into the unpredictable ocean, the journey began. 

SZA continued to navigate these uncharted waters of life throughout the show. Though she didn’t speak much between songs, her background visuals and incredible vocals told a beautiful story and invited us to discover her reality. The musician’s signature soulful voice steered us through feelings of unease, hurt and rage about past romantic endeavors.

Stunning visual effects amplified SZA’s already-enrapturing music — whenever she needed to self-reflect, lights would fade to a melancholy blue and green, bathing her in the colors of the deep. As she came to understand herself, radiant pinks and yellows lit up the stage, grounding her in the joy of self-acceptance and welcoming potential new love interests. By the end, we were all part of SZA’s crew, following her through life’s rough waters to find hope on the horizon. 

The most astonishing sequence of the concert came right after a heart-pounding scene of SZA fighting rough waves. Right when it seemed she might not resurface — there she was. 

Wearing a red dress, SZA was lifted into the air on an orange lifeboat, circling high above the stadium crowd. Her crooning renditions of “Nobody Gets Me” and “Special” were truly spellbinding, and her vocal range did wonders to the pure, unadulterated pain behind her lyricism. 

Emotional shipwreck in San Francisco harbor: SZA 'saves our souls' at tour performance
Lighthouse shining beneath her, SZA rose above the crowds in a lifeboat to deliver a beautiful live version of “Nobody Gets Me,” off of her latest album, “SOS.” (Photo: RHEA JAIN/The Stanford Daily)

Floating high in the stadium, she sang heart-wrenching, guttural notes that crescendoed into a powerfully honest chorus: “How am I supposed to let you go? Only like myself when I’m with you / Nobody gets me, you do.”

SZA’s emotional delivery stirred my heart. I related to the anxiety of wanting to be understood by others. Her stage presence reached me all the way in my seat, soothing my worries about being yourself in a world of artificiality. 

Her vibrant energy and siren-like voice kept me spellbound through the entire performance. She seamlessly blended in sultry R&B tracks like “Shirt” and “Used” (ft. Don Toliver) with more mainstream pop hits like “Kiss Me More.” Longtime fans like myself were likely familiar with her versatility. Her honeyed voice smoothly shifted to a lower, rougher tone to rap lines in “Smoking on my Ex Pack,” starting from “Roll the clip and run it back, I’m really like that / I’m really not friendly, I need my credit, — hate that.” While I’ve heard it all before in the studio versions, experiencing her smooth beats and lyricism live was a highlight of the show.

It was clear just how much SZA still resonates with these deeply personal songs several months after the album release, judging by the energy and charisma of her performance. She glided across the stage, dancing playfully alongside her backup dancers and engaging with the crowd whether they were in the front row or far in the rafters. 

Emotional shipwreck in San Francisco harbor: SZA 'saves our souls' at tour performance
SZA’s dynamic show incorporated fiery visual effects and multiple costume changes in her passionate performance of “I Hate U.”  (Photo: RHEA JAIN/The Stanford Daily)

At times, the lively, high-spirited nature of the concert gave some of her more vulnerable songs like “Too Late” and “F2F” a more bubbly, pop feel compared to the studio versions. While I had my reservations about this alternative beat, I appreciated her ability to experiment with the mood and arrangements while still delivering stunning vocals. 

This innovation with different flows and genres is also a strength of the album itself. She manages to pull every song together in a cohesive manner that delivers a nearly flawless, emotional sentiment. The lyrical wit and musical range illustrates her growth as a person and artist.

While I’ve listened to “SOS” nonstop since its release, seeing the songs come alive on stage was a completely captivating experience. The lighting, ocean visuals and SZA’s masterful delivery brought the emotion in these songs to another level. Hearing the crowd sing along to “Good Days” crystallized the album’s cohesive message of persevering through life’s rough waters. By the end, I was left in awe, having witnessed SZA’s artistry shine brighter than ever before. This was more than just a concert — it was a cathartic, inspirational journey.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.


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