REVIEW: SZA’s “SOS Tour” rocks the boat as musical, visual experience

The album cover for SZA’s sophomore album, SOS. Photo courtesy of Top Dawg Entertainment.

R’n’B star SZA is back on the road after the release of her sophomore album, SOS

The highly-anticipated release came five years after her critically acclaimed debut, ctrl (pronounced “control”), which solidified SZA as a name to watch, and a star in her own way. SZA also featured on chart-topping singles such as “Kiss Me More” by Doja Cat and “All The Stars” with Kendrick Lamar from the Black Panther soundtrack before finally releasing an hour-long album full of heartbreak, healing, and hedonism.

SZA began the SOS Tour in Columbus, OH, on Feb 21, and played the United Center in Chicago the following night.

Before SZA hit the stage, opening act Omar Apollo raised the energy of the crowd with songs like “Endlessly”, “Tamagotchi”, and his viral hit “Evergreen”. Though only having himself, a small band, and a screen with creative visuals, Apollo engaged the crowd by dancing and singing with the audience, and made new fans out of audience members who did not know him before.

SZA began her set with “PSA”, an unreleased track that is rumored to be included on the deluxe version of SOS, before transitioning seamlessly into “Seek & Destroy”, a song that dives into the freeing feeling after leaving a destructive man. SZA and her dancers performed in perfect synchronicity on a set designed as an ocean dock before setting sail. 

During the concert, SZA did not neglect ctrl, with songs like “Broken Clocks” and “Love Galore (ft. Travis Scott)” inciting some of the loudest screams and lyric recitation. Even underrated tracks from the debut like “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” and “Doves in the Wind (ft. Kendrick Lamar)” got love from the R’n’B singer.

After beginning their journey, SZA and her crew get shipwrecked, and have to send out an SOS distress call. This part of the show included tracks like “Blind”, “Shirt”, and “Smoking On My Ex Pack”, and thematically, dealt with the “rough waters” of a relationship, before an eventual break up. While her dancers are in distress, SZA finds her power in becoming a sort of sea siren, a mythical creature which lures sailors using their voice. A costume and set change show the vengeance and hurt present in the first two tracks. As the story progresses, the lighting and stage visuals become more positive, especially during “Smoking On My Ex Pack”, showing the revel SZA takes in seeing karma come for her former lover.

Though there were many memorable moments during the set, the highlight of the entire concert is when SZA soared above the venue in a life raft while performing a medley of her songs “Supermodel”, “Special”, “Nobody Gets Me”, and “Gone Girl”. All tracks have a common theme of isolation and a desire for better treatment from a romantic partner, so the exclusion of dancers and elaborate visuals matched the energy of the songs.

The final act of the show saw SZA and her crew being rescued, ending with the bouncy and fun Calvin Harris remix of “The Weekend”. However, five minutes later, SZA returned to the stage for the encore, “Good Days”. SZA ended the show as it began: peacefully singing on a diving board backed by an ocean sunset. But this time, she’s back from the journey many people will go on at some point in their lives. She’s healed, she’s happy, and she’s herself again.

After the house lights came on and much of the audience had already left, SZA herself came back out onto the stage to express her gratitude for fans’ time and dedication. She explained how the United Center was one of the largest venues she’s played, and how it is not lost on her how important her fans are. A unique move by a unique artist.

SZA’s SOS Tour was an experience that is unlike any other. A story within a show, the set took the audience to places that they had been in their minds, but never in real life. Through this, SZA and her crew showed us that sometimes to be saved, you have to send an SOS.

Kelsey Gara is a staff editor for Oswego East’s online news magazine, the Howl

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