Olivia Rodrigo’s first show in San Francisco has chaotic lines

The line at Olivia Rodrigo’s final US concert of her “Sour” tour in San Francisco stretched the length of Bill Graham Civic Auditorium, twice, and the entire length of City Hall on Friday night.

That was, in part, by design. Picture this: The defining pop star of this young decade booked what is essentially an oversized high school theater to host her world-conquering debut album “Sour,” all so she wouldn’t “skip a step” in her route already accelerated. to pop stardom. (In other cities, he booked even smaller venues, like the 5,900-seat Greek Theater in Los Angeles.)

She may have made the right decision. Her music thrives in small spaces, where the roar of the crowd singing in unison feels rousing given that so many of her early singles (recorded in 2020 and released in early 2021) came out at such a lonely time in the pandemic.

“I think that’s the most beautiful thing about music,” Rodrigo said just before playing “Driver’s License,” the song that established his career, “is that sometimes it can communicate how we feel better than words.”

When she says a line like that with such conviction, you can’t help but believe it for yourself too.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

For her mainly Gen Z audience, Olivia Rodrigo’s best songs feel like they absorb you, make you feel whole, understood. At the very least, they force their audience to lose their voices the next morning or brave the San Francisco cold in her best Shein. Rodrigo’s composition crystallizes the depths of heartbreak in all the rage, paranoia and envy. Like any other teenager, she cares what other people think, maybe too much.

And on a live stage, these heartfelt, life-affirming songs are fucking ripping. Her vocal prowess as a theater child was on full display. Every word she sang had at least a few thousand people singing along with her; and for her biggest hits, the collective voice of the 8,500-seat auditorium felt like it was on the air long after the show was over.


“Damn, I really saved the best show for last,” she joked, at one point, after hearing how loud the crowd was singing along with her.

Rodrigo’s muse on tour has been less the singer-songwriters that inspired “Driver’s License” and more the rotation of alt-rock stations that shaped “Good 4 U” and other rock-heavy songs on “Sour.” “Brutal,” with its intentionally harrowing song-talk cadence, felt completely alive. As the crowd yelled “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” with her, you felt the collective poison of fleeting youth seeping out.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

These songs he wrote in his bedroom, given this space to flourish and a crowd that hung on his every word, became cathartic, rocking missives during the span of his hour-long set. Take “Happier,” a meek, pleading ballad for an ex who’s moved on. He ditches the folksy piano of the recorded song entirely, transforming it into an arena-rock romp that could fill a stadium three times the size of Bill Graham. “Jealousy, Jealousy” got a full pop-punk upgrade; at the show, it almost felt like hearing a lost Paramore b-side for the first time.

Even the covers he chose for the tour felt intentionally KROQ-y: Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and No Doubt’s “Just A Girl,” both of which he’s done in other cities. (If I had a complaint about the show, I wish it would do a female-led ’90s song with a deeper tie to the Bay Area: listening to Rodrigo do his cover of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” or “What’s Up “from 4 Non Blondes?” would have been a pleasure.)

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

All the while, Rodrigo was sprightly, running from one side of the stage to the other animated entirely by her love of performing and the adulation of the crowd around her. She dazzled, with so much energy and enthusiasm and gratitude for getting to be in the room with everyone. The confetti at the end of the night had scrawled messages thanking fans for coming on tour.

But as much as older audiences have made Rodrigo an avatar of indefatigable, endless youth, you forget how young he really is.

Throughout the show, there was this nagging feeling of being an outsider, that the night was a homecoming for the young people who took this album and made it part of themselves.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Olivia Rodrigo just turned 19 this year. She is wise, but not beyond her age. She cares deeply, enough to stop her show twice in the span of 10 minutes (and interrupting her performance of “Traitor”, forcing her to start over from the top) when two people in the crowd needed help. medical. She’s a sage for teens and tweens worried about what the cool guys are up to, or if her emotionally unavailable boyfriend is talking to another girl. But being a young person today means constantly having to think about the world and how punishing and unfair it can be.

Consider the long, chaotic lines leading up to the show. A concert staffer outside told me the lines were so long in part because security measures were tightened, likely in light of this week’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas. (On his Los Angeles show earlier this week, he explicitly called for “stronger gun control laws in America”; he also discussed abortion rights on this tour.)

I don’t envy anyone who has to come of age right now. I’m not much older than the average concert age, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to grow up with constant pain and loss that comes at every turn, on every screen.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

While preparing for his concert and writing this review, I thought a lot about the last song on “Sour”, a sweet lament called “Hope Ur Ok”. In it, he reflects on old acquaintances who have suffered at the hands of neglectful and uncaring parents. It felt out of place on an album so preoccupied with love and its discontent, and even live, it felt too much, as if this young woman shouldn’t have to carry, let alone perform an entire song on, this load.

Pop stars of every generation, from Janet to Gaga, have written songs about the state of the world. And yet, there is something to be said for a 19-year-old who, on her first album, felt the need to write a song about how adults have, time and time again, failed young people.

All the other songs about the complexities of teenage relationships ring truer because all Rodrigo wants is for his listeners to be okay. During these anxious times, that seems like enough.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Bill Graham Civic Center in San Francisco on Friday, May 27.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

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