Olivia Rodrigo sells Austin tickets, plays Traitor, Good 4 U, and more.
Sunday is for church. Friday is for teen idols. Thank goodness pop superstar Olivia Rodrigo brought her Sour Tour to Austin’s Moody Amphitheater in Waterloo Park, so thousands of Austinites — those with driver’s licenses and those who relied on their mother – can start their weekend at an altar of anguish and chords sing.
The chart-topping singer-songwriter just crossed town last year for a recording “Austin City Limits,” recently crowned as a mainstream escape fresh from the Disney factory. Only a few months later, and his first real tour stop was a royal visit. You get dressed when the queen arrives. The princesses of the House of Rodrigo, and quite a few princes, paraded through the park in tiaras and knee-length ball gowns. Tens of thousands of butterflies watched, clinging to hair mats.
And the sticker industry is doing very well, judging by the faces of young fans recreating the “Sour” album cover.
Even before sunset, the night began to look like Billie Eilish’s iconic 2021 Austin City Limits music festival set. The mostly young fans spread out on 15th Street and Trinity Street. If you could help but be swept away by the buzz of fans adjusting their billboards and comparing merchandise, you could look to the back of the park, where each level of a parking lot began to fill with bodies looking in the sold-out room below, FOMO be sacred.
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Holly Humberstone, the British singer-songwriter who opens the show, ritually slips Rodrigo’s name between her numbers, like a town crier. She set the stage for an evening to leave all emotion on the ground, with a trendy catalog of synthetic confessionals. “Please Don’t Leave Just Yet” and “Scarlett” simmered with grief and longing. The pot should bubble before it overflows.
Shortly after dark, a purple curtain stretched across the amphitheater stage. A guitar ran through the speakers like a diesel truck. The strobes might have tricked you into thinking it was about to take over, except they were in time to the staccato snippets of Rodrigo’s album opener “Brutal,” each of which s unraveled sharply into mall rebellion static.
The giant purple petals peeled off and Rodrigo bloomed under a disco ball.
Five thousand voices and a few changes rang out: “I’m so insecure, I think/ That I’ll die before I drink.”
Rodrigo wore a giant purple heart to hide his real one, which beats to the beat of streaming teen anthems. She sang about how uncool and unsmart she can’t even parallel park. The way this show worked, it meant that the audience sang about these things too.
She grabbed the mic stand with fishnet gloves and leaned on it, smiled and waved. It’s hard to say if the screaming ever stopped.
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Then, after a sternum-shaking “jealousy, jealousy,” Rodrigo took a beating.
“I wrote this next song about my first heartbreak,” she said. In a Pavlovian response, everyone heard the sound of car keys in their heads. The first time she played the next song for her best friend, Rodrigo said, the person she told every hurt to finally understood the depth of her sadness.
“Music captures feelings better than words,” she said, which is why “Drivers License” was the #1 song in the country.
“Guess you didn’t mean what you wrote in that song about me / ‘Cause you said forever, now I’m driving alone past your street,” Rodrigo sang in the honey, as his audience shouted the same words like a football pitch of Pop Rocks poured into an ocean of Coke.
Behind Rodrigo, silver streamers swayed in the wind as if enjoying a good summer song too. The singer let the audience take the last two lines, then she took it home. Everyone should be so lucky to see the depths of their teenage despair turn into mass euphoria at 19.
Of course, Rodrigo isn’t the first singer to capture the emotional attention of a generation, and she won’t be the last. She knows it too, and her setlist hailed the women who opened the doors to pop-rock.
Waterloo Park millennials got their early bird special on the senior menu right after “Drivers License” — a cover of “Complicated” by Avril Lavigne, the godmother of pop-punk dissatisfaction. “She’s the coolest,” Rodrigo said.
Later that night, the singer conjured up Gwen Stefani (also one of the coolest, according to Rodrigo) for a rousing “Just a Girl.” It really hit home, though it did reveal Rodrigo’s room for growth in the grit department. But Stefani released “Tragic Kingdom” in her twenties; we will get there.
An Olivia Rodrigo song can be like a one-act play, which is one way to avoid the cliché of calling her a storyteller. There is a theatrics to her directing though, an expertise in conveying feelings about her features, with her body language, with the way she focuses on faces in the crowd to bring something quadruple platinum to the ground. A youth spent on television is excellent training for this, no doubt. (Heh.) But no amount of money can create this talent.
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Tearing down the wall between artist and fan is part of the job description of a pop star today. Sometimes that involves a little mischief on social media. At a massive outdoor concert, this might involve giving each attendee a colorful paper flower to place on their phone’s flashlight for a DIY light setup during a song like the LGBTQ awareness ballad.” Hope Ur OK”. It’s an odd duck on a breakup anthem album, but hey, some of us like it.
Rodrigo said hello to the people in the parking lot. She stuck a “Keep Austin Weird” sticker on the front of her rig. Who’s to tell him that we now have a Hermés store, that some of our gay bars are displaced by development, and that no one weirdo can afford to live here anymore?
On the Alanis-worthy “Traitor,” the show reached an emotional high and low point at the same time. “Isn’t it funny?” Do you remember I raised her/ And you told me I was paranoid? the whole park was singing. Rodrigo dug deep feelings of betrayal, which doesn’t sound like too much fun, but she said it was her favorite to sing live.
Makes sense – how many of our favorite pop songs are actually about the tough stuff we need a little help sweating out? Two of Rodrigo’s biggest hits (well, they’re all the biggest) are pure catharsis, which is how it ended on Friday night.
On “Deja Vu,” Austin shouted the words “strawberry ice cream” and “Billy Joel” like battle cries. And on the “Good 4 U” parallel to Paramore, teenagers, moms, dads, people who listened to Avril Lavigne in their childhood bedroom, and kids who aren’t old enough to ride a roller coaster have all called that fucking sociopath who harmed their main attraction, “You’ll never have to suffer like you know I do.”
A boy once made Olivia Rodrigo sadder than she had ever been. A few years later, it made thousands of people in Austin as happy as they could be.