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Review: Olivia Rodrigo is 21 years young in thrilling 'Guts' tour opener

Mikael Wood, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Entertainment News

PALM DESERT, Calif. — As her keyboard player slowly cycled through the chords of her song "Teenage Dream," Olivia Rodrigo stood onstage Friday night and proclaimed that her nightmare hadn't come true.

The Grammy-winning singer and songwriter was maybe 20 minutes into the opening date of her world tour behind her 2023 album, "Guts," which closes with that mournful piano ballad about fearing — even (or especially) as a child — that your best years are already behind you. She wrote "Teenage Dream" a few days before she turned 19, she told the capacity crowd at Acrisure Arena here, "at a time when I was really afraid of growing up."

But instead of flaming out in the wake of "Drivers License," the instant-smash 2021 single that vaulted Rodrigo to pop superstardom, here she was in front of 11,000 adoring fans: not merely a teen-phenom survivor but a thriving adult.

"I don't know if you guys know this, but I turned 21 a few days ago," she said to cheers that made clear everybody knew this. "I went to the gas station the other day and I bought a pack of cigarettes and a case of beer. I promise I didn't consume it, but I just bought it just 'cause I (expletive) could." More whoops.

"All of this to say that I think growing up isn't so scary after all."

A dyed-in-the-wool theater kid who got her start in the Disney universe, Rodrigo is still using her power to heal those afflicted with the disease of adolescence. Her songs on "Guts" — like the ones on her 2021 debut, "Sour" — channel the sense of injustice that defines being a teenager whom no one understands; even when the music is grappling with the specifics of Rodrigo's overnight celebrity — as in "The Grudge," which many have assumed addresses a falling-out with Taylor Swift — it seeks to make space for the universal outrage of having to deal with clueless parents and insensitive ex-boyfriends.

"You look happy and healthy," she sang with one such ex in mind near the end of Friday's show, in "Good 4 U," before adding with something like pride: "Not me." It was one of countless moments in which she was honoring the emotional turmoil faced by her young audience.

Yet grow up Rodrigo certainly has: This tour, which will keep her on the road through a four-night stand at Inglewood's Kia Forum in August, is a more elaborate affair than her first outing, with plenty of arena-gig spectacle — something she purposely avoided with "Sour," playing mostly in smaller venues two years ago. She had a troupe of dancers clutching handheld mirrors as they twirled around her in "Pretty Isn't Pretty"; she writhed on a see-through portion of the stage during "Obsessed" as a camera leered at her from below.

 

For "Logical" and "Enough for You," two of her most intimate songs, she strapped herself onto a glowing crescent moon that floated out over the crowd — an appealingly whimsical super-sizing of the ritualized pop-star confession. And after she introduced "Teenage Dream" with her tale of turning 21, giant video screens flickered to life with clips of a kindergarten-age Rodrigo playacting the showbiz finesse to come.

For all its flash, though, the production never overwhelmed Rodrigo's performance, which showcased her strong live vocals — her singing in "The Grudge" felt almost laser-guided — and her close, affectionate interplay with her seven-piece band, which consisted entirely of women and nonbinary people.

Rodrigo's music switches between crisp, guitar-based pop-punk and florid, Broadway-steeped piano balladry, and here she seemed eager to push each mode to new extremes. She took her time in the slow-moving "Traitor" and "Drivers License," communicating the pain of betrayal with the cracks and burrs in her voice, while "Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl" and a very rowdy "Brutal" would've sounded at home on the Warped Tour (or perhaps even Ozzfest). Rodrigo did the snarling "All-American Bitch," about the impossible demands of modern womanhood, as a kind of gallery of annoyance; she also changed a lyric about her "perfect all-American hips" to call attention to her "perfect all-American tits."

For "Happier" and "Favorite Crime," Rodrigo sat cross-legged at the lip of the stage with only one of her guitarists accompanying her — just two musicians working through their complicated feelings in real time with the tools at hand.

Friday's 90-minute concert, which featured every song from "Guts" and all but a couple from "Sour," ended with "Get Him Back!," a rap-rock banger that weighs the comforts of a reunion against the pleasures of revenge. Then she came down from the stage to greet fans in the front row, one of whom handed her a tiara that she quickly placed atop her head.

Her people had spoken.

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©2024 Los Angeles Times. Visit latimes.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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