Olivia Rodrigo’s First Show in San Francisco Has Chaotic Lines

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The queue for Olivia Rodrigo’s last US concert of her “Sour” tour in San Francisco stretched the length of the Bill Graham Civic Auditorium – twice – and the length of City Hall on Friday evening.

This 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 perform her world-conquering debut album “Sour,” all so she wouldn’t “skip any steps” in her route already accelerated. to pop stardom. (In other cities, she booked even smaller venues, like the 5,900-seat Greek Theater in Los Angeles.)

Maybe she made the right choice. His music thrives in small spaces, where the din of crowds singing in unison is delightful given that so many of his early singles (recorded in 2020 and released in early 2021) came out in such a lonely time of the pandemic.

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

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

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

To her mostly Gen Z audience, Olivia Rodrigo’s best songs feel like they overwhelm you, make you feel whole, understood. At the very least, they make his audience lose their voices the next morning or brave the cold San Francisco in their best Shein. Rodrigo’s songwriting crystallizes the depths of grief in all rage, paranoia and envy. Like every other teenager, she cares what other people think — maybe too much.

And in a live setting, these serious, life-affirming songs ripped apart. His theatrical child vocal prowess was on full display. Every word she sang had at least a few thousand others singing alongside her; and for its greatest hits, the collective voice of the 8,500-seat auditorium seemed suspended in 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 the crowd was singing along to her.

Rodrigo’s muse while on tour was less the singer-songwriters who inspired “Driver’s License” and more the alt-rock station rotation that shaped “Good 4 U” and other rock songs on “Sour.” . “Brutal,” with its intentionally angsty song-talk cadence, felt utterly alive. When the crowd shouted “Where’s my fucking teenage dream?” with her, you felt the collective venom of an ephemeral youth infiltrate.

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

Those songs she wrote in her bedroom, given that space to flourish and a crowd that latched on to every word, turned into cathartic, rocking missives during her set of one o’clock. Take “Happier,” a sweet, pleading ballad to an emotional ex. She drops the folk piano from the recorded song entirely, turning it into a rock arena that could fill a stadium three times the size of Bill Graham. “Jealousy, Jealousy” got a complete pop-punk makeover; at the show, it was almost like hearing a long-lost Paramore B-side for the first time.

Even the covers she chose for the tour looked intentionally KROQ-y — Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated” and No Doubt’s “Just A Girl,” both of which she performed in other cities. (If I had one complaint about the show, I wish it had done a 90s song led by a woman with a deeper connection to the Bay Area – hearing Rodrigo do his version of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” or “What’s Up?” would have been a treat.)

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 vivacious – pacing back and forth on stage entirely driven by stage love and the adulation of the crowd around her. She dazzled, with so much energy, zeal and gratitude that she even got to be in the room with everyone. The confetti at the end of the night had messages scribbled on it thanking the fans for coming to the tour.

But for as much as Rodrigo was presented by older audiences as an avatar of endless, tireless youth, you forget how young she really is.

Throughout the show, there was this nagging feeling of being an intruder – 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 wise beyond her years. She cares deeply, enough to stop her show twice in the span of 10 minutes (and cut into her performance of “Traitor”, forcing her to start over from the top) when two people in the crowd needed a medical help. It’s wise for teens and tweens who worry about what cool kids are doing or if their emotionally unavailable boyfriend is talking with another girl. But being a young person today means constantly having to think about the world and how punitive and unfair it can be.

Consider the long chaotic lines leading up to the show. A staff member at the concert outside told me the lines were so long in part because security measures had been tightened, likely in light of this week’s massacre in Uvalde, Texas. (On her show in Los Angeles earlier this week, she explicitly called for “stricter gun control laws in America”; she also spoke about abortion rights on that tour.)

I don’t envy anyone coming of age right now. I’m not much older than the average concert age, but I can’t imagine what it’s like, growing up with relentless pain and loss that presents itself 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 her concert and writing this review, I thought a lot about the last song of “Sour”, a sweet lament called “Hope Ur Ok”. In it, she reflects on old acquaintances who suffered at the hands of neglectful and indifferent 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 wear, let alone perform a whole song about this burden.

Pop stars across the generations – from Janet to Gaga – have written songs about the state of the world. And yet, there’s something to be said for a 19-year-old who, on her award-winning debut album, felt the need to write a song about how adults, time and again, have let young people down.

All the other songs about the intricacies of teenage relationships ring truer because all Rodrigo wants is for his listeners to be OK. In these anxious times, that seems 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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