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Lizzo

If, heaven forbid, something awful had happened at Bridgestone Arena on Sunday night during the local engagement for Lizzo’s The Special Tour, Nashville would be facing a shortage of ass so pronounced that Davidson County might never recover. Perhaps it’s the confrontational nature of just being alive at this moment in time, but I couldn’t help but worry there might be picketers holding up signs that say something like “Thicc Is Sick!” outside Bridgestone. This was not the case (and honestly, the elastic nature of language allows that phrase to be supportive or pejorative depending on context, which is funny). And more so, given how the traditional media landscape suggests that you don’t exist if you’re not a fascist, an anti-vaxxer, a TERF or a violent racist, it felt really good to just hang out in the vibe of a Lizzo show. Clear heels and comfy flats were in balance and abundance. There were spangles and dangles and an overwhelming ethos of Looking Good and Feeling Cute, while the nurturing, amniotic warmth of the Roland 808 kick drum synced up heartbeats and soothed weary souls.

Lizzo is not just a brand. She believes in liberation, and that extends to the one-night-only pop-up communities that result from arena shows. The vibe was supportive and energetic, with the utopian blend of bodies and flesh that we just don’t encounter often enough in public spaces outside of the Wachowskis’ films and TV or when Salt-N-Pepa’s “Push It” comes on. About two thirds of the way into the show, when Lizzo and her two backup vocalists busted out a trap take on “I’m Every Woman,” emotions got felt all over the place. When an off-white couch emerged from the stage and Lizzo welcomed us to the Therapy portion of the show, it wasn’t just a chance to dazzle with some ballads. It was an open invitation to recenter oneself, and it allowed the moments of affirmation and emotional rebuilding to really take hold. And maybe that’s not something you go to an arena show for, but it’s nice to get all the production value and choreography and dramaturgy as well as the kind of emotional connection that tends to be the foundation of shows in more intimate venues.

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Lizzo

But that’s part of what makes Lizzo special — see what I did there? — as well as what gave this evening a great deal of emotional significance. There were all sorts of instances throughout the set when she found ways to incorporate the unexpected and use that energy to swoop into a whole new set of groovy possibilities. When the band, dubbed The Lizzbians (ha!), kicked into “Boys” (from the Deluxe Edition of 2019’s Cuz I Love You), they did so with elements of Yes’ “Heart of the Sunrise” (aka that song from the Buffalo ’66 trailer and soundtrack). I cannot express to you what an unexpected delight this was, such a left-field choice that meshed disparate elements in a way that disassembled expectations and charged up the whole rest of the evening with a kind of “anything can happen” energy. That includes the interlude in which Lizzo tried to help fix the strained relationship between two sisters with a call. Seriously, everyone at Bridgestone wants to know how this whole thing is going to end up shaking out. I hope Emily in New York works things out with her sister, because we all know Lizzo tried.

“2 B Loved (Am I Ready)” is a perfect ’80s aerobics anthem (especially in that stunning new PNAU remix) all on its own. It achieves an even grander destiny in the hands of recent Emmy winners Lizzo and her dancers, the Big Grrrls. Culturally, we know the color schemes and flesh shapes that are “supposed” to accompany this kind of driving energy and what we get onstage with this majestic banger of a song is both revelation and revolution. Lizzo’s approach to this song and its legacy is a democracy, not a dictatorship. This remains the easiest way to make everyone feel OK with shaking their ass in a more formalized fashion than might be expected. This was a show where nobody felt shamed, and the simple joy that results in that kind of situation is palpable.

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Latto

Atlanta-based opener Latto had four dancers, a DJ and a memorable flow that kept the audience hyped and pumped. When she dropped “Big Energy,” it was the kind of electric moment when you realized that the right sample — in this case, from Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love,” à la Mariah Carey’s “Fantasy” — coupled with a dynamic performer can bridge all sorts of experiences, and it was awesome. I wish I could have seen her whole set, but the vicissitudes of Bridgestone security processes meant getting into the building took a bit longer. (Real talk: A friend always accompanies their friend through the security line, whether one of you is carrying a bag or not.)

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Lizzo

So much of the focus on the Lizzo experience dwells on the affirmation and the twerkulation that comes with each show — and don’t forget the flutestravaganza as well. But in a live setting, what stays with you is Lizzo’s voice. She can rap with the best of MCs, she can weather the Quiet Storm with balladry and love jams. But she can also summon that big diva voice that calls to mind the greats — like Loleatta Holloway or Martha Wash or Jocelyn Brown. They’re the women who could set dance floors ablaze with just a sampled five-word hook, and the women who would see their work “visualized” by waifish models back when MTV ruled the intersection between inspiration and imagination. But now, when Lizzo unleashes the full dynamic range of her voice, nobody is getting in the way of that, or trying to ventriloquize respect and attention away from the big and beautiful body who does the work. Lizzo is the headliner. She is the star. And as a society, we’ve at least gotten to the point where we can acknowledge — and bask — in that.

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