I have never been to a louder show at 9:30 Club. Actually in any venue in the district…or any city for that matter. Lizzo’s second sold-out night at 9:30 Club was proof positive that positivity sells, that positivity is universal, that anyone regardless of sexual orientation, race, body shape, ethnicity gravitates towards the power of positivity. And when the messenger of that positivity is as boisterous and magnetic as Lizzo, you have an experience of sound and energy strong enough to leave a lasting imprint on what you expect from a sold-out show.
As someone who admittedly doesn’t listen to Lizzo and wasn’t really aware of her recent album Cuz I Love You outside of the fact that she promoted the hell out of it, I walked into 9:30 Club as a stranger. Even at 7:40 p.m. (doors opened at 7 p.m.), the pent up excitement from a half-full venue was unshakeable. Depending on where you stood or where you went, the crowd was different. In one corner, a group of marvelous gay men, in another a group of teens dressed in some sort of alchemy of Urban Outfitters and the remnants of Hot Topic. Above, lining the rails, a couple where the guy was just as excited as the girl. In the far reaches of the back upper bar, an older couple on their third glass of wine steaming straight ahead to the fourth. It was the embodiment of D.C., a group so diverse that it made sense and never forced a double take.
The opening act, Tayla Parx did not disappoint either. By the time the accomplished songwriter/singer took the stage, the anticipation in the venue was reaching a crescendo. In my recent interview with Parx, I was struck by how confident she was during a creative transition few songwriters pull off successfully. Add in the fact that her success as a songwriter at the age of 25 is historic, her desire to make it as an artist is commendable if not fraught with risk. But luckily, she showed signs that she could stick the landing. Beset on both sides by inflatable cacti, Parx bounced around the stage unafraid to take the reigns of her own voice. With each song, her voice grew, and with it her comfort. Despite being on stage by herself with nothing more than childish props, Parx gave a performance that suggested her recognition as a potent dual-threat may not be too far in the future.
Lizzo’s performance began with suspense. Fog streamed onto the stage from both sides, and her name in bright orange lights emanated from the DJ booth. It was at this moment that a Northern Wall of noise cascaded from the back of 9:30 Club right on top of me in the photo pit. The screams of every single person were deafening, and once Lizzo waltzed onto the stage with the demeanor of Aretha Franklin and the fuck-with-me confidence of Beyoncé it was a wrap. The most surprising element of her performance was just how unrelenting it was. This was the second show in a row for her, but you would have never have guessed. Every lyric was sung with a presence devoid of fatigue and of repetition. Lizzo moved around the stage effortlessly, commanding the crowd with the forceful caress of Bernstein.
I started this piece by speaking to the power of positivity. For all of the memorable moments in Lizzo’s performance, the ones that stayed with me long after I left were the interludes between transitions in her set. Between a series of thunderous pop songs, Lizzo spoke candidly to the crowd about self-love, about the tribulations of depression, about wasted emotions on people and situations unworthy of them. She spoke with masked confidence and naked honesty to an audience who see her as more than a powerful singer from Detroit, Michigan. She spoke to the simple tenets of pride, love, and acceptance in oneself, and she did it with an empathetic grace that can only be believed in a live show. Luckily, she’ll be back in D.C. in September at The Anthem for back-to-back nights, both of which sold-out faster than you can say “love yourself.”