Olivia Rodrigo Is the Actual Rock Star We’ve Needed in a Galvanizing ‘Guts Tour’ Opening: Concert Review

Rexa Vella

Olivia Rodrigo Is the Actual Rock Star We’ve Needed in a Galvanizing ‘Guts Tour’ Opening: Concert Review

“I don’t know if you guys know this, but I just turned 21,” Olivia Rodrigo told her audience during the opening show of her 2024 tour Friday night. (They knew.) “I’m really fucking excited about it — big birthday. 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 bought it just ‘cause I fucking could.” There was no mention of whether the attendant making the sale did any kind of double-take after carding her and getting a gander of the most famous driver’s license in the history of pop culture.

Rodrigo was telling the story about her venture into the realm of AM/PM impulse purchases by way of introducing “Teenage Dream,” a song she wrote when she was 19 and, from the sound of the lyrics, wondering whether she might have already passed her prime (This is the sort of question that probably comes up more among child stars than the general population of adolescents.) But, she informed the crowd at Palm Springs’ Acrisure Arena, she was no longer dogged by these feelings, two years further on. “I think growing up isn’t so scary after all, and life just kind of gets better.” We’ll all shotgun a beer to that… or mime it, anyway.

Rodrigo has had a lot of reason since she wrote that troubled song to turn into a cockeyed optimist: “Drivers License” brought her as close to literally overnight sensationalism as is possible in pop. Her first album, “Sour,” was widely acclaimed — at least in poptimist circles — as an instant-classic debut, and the follow-up, 2023’s “Guts,” was maybe even 5% better than that. (She’s not even shackled anymore to the TV show that seemed to have fueled some of the angst of her early material.) What’s to feel angsty about? Well, for starters, bad boys and troublesome societal expectations, the twin tortures animating anthems from “Vampire” to “Pretty Isn’t Pretty.” But her infectiously giddy stage show is all about joy, not brutalism.

Olivia Rodrigo performs onstage for the kick off of GUTS World Tour at Acrisure Arena on February 23, 2024 in Palm Springs, California. Christopher Polk for Penske Media

It’s a rock ‘n’ roll show, by the way — maybe the best rock tour we’ll get all year, even if the season is young. Rodrigo’s albums necessarily have to alternate her pop-punk thrashers and her ballads, to some degree, making for a little bit of whiplash for the few of us who still listen to albums in squence. But the concert setting all but demands the louder and brasher material is going to be front- and backloaded. So any show that starts with “Bad Idea Right?” and “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl” and ends with the brass knuckles of “Brutal,” “Obsessed,” “All-American Bitch,” “Good 4 U” and “Get Him Back!” is going to be remembered by everyone attending as an electric guitar-ignited fireworks show, even if there’s just as much to be said for the balladic sparklers that made the show’s quieter mid-sections just as enthralling.

It should be mentioned that it still feels like a Rock Show even though Rodrigo has added a few of the tropes of a Pop Show since her barer-bones introductory tour of 2022. Her five musicians and two backing singers are now joined by eight dancers, a femme-presenting, inclusive ensemble that adds good dollops of taste spice to the show without ever making it feel overwhelmed by choreography. There’s a Busby Berkeley moment when the leggy octet surrounds a reclining Rodrigo, shot from an overhead camera for the big screen in the rear. They gaze into and play with personal mirrors shaped like giant lollipops during “Pretty Isn’t Pretty,” the most message-heavy number of the night. But overall, their dance routines aren’t overly high-concept or exhaustingly athletic. They’re fast-moving grace notes, and they ghost the stage at regular enough intervals that it always feels like a pleasure when they pop back in to add a bit of visual poetry or just break completely out of formation to bring the party.

Olivia Rodrigo performs onstage for the kick off of GUTS World Tour at Acrisure Arena on February 23, 2024 in Palm Springs, California. Christopher Polk for Penske Media

It’s not a show remotely driven by costume changes or big production elements, either — allthough there is a modest enough amount of both to stave off any possibility of things getting visually stale. The one big production number, as it were, occurs when Rodrigo hops on to a floating quarter-moon for “Logical” and “Enough for You,” taking flight to circle around the circumference of the arena’s floor area. Stars descend from the rafters while she’s doing her moonflight, but however much that bit of business might have cost, it feels kind of like something you’d see at an especially well-produced prom — a lovely example of analog charm.

Olivia Rodrigo performs onstage for the kick off of GUTS World Tour at Acrisure Arena on February 23, 2024 in Palm Springs, California. Christopher Polk for Penske Media

Rodrigo is at that young stage in her career where she can perform almost every song she’s released and still have the show clock in at an economical, just-right 95 minutes. Unlike her 2022 tour, there are no covers, at all. (At the Acrisure Arena, she wore an “I’m just a girl” T-shirt for the encore, raising memories of when the No Doubt song of that name figured into the prior tour.) While the set probably could have used a surprise pick just for the sake of online chatter, it’s hard to fault her for being satisfied with her own material, when she’s delivered one of the best one-two album punches this century. All 12 songs from the standard edition of “Guts” got aired out, plus a snarly bonus track, “Obsessed,” for the lucky 13th. Nine out of 11 songs from “Sour” got played, too, making for a show that somehow felt both generous and compact.

Among the highlights that didn’t just consist of a tight rock band with a superior singer banging it out, Rodrigo had nice duo moments — leaning on her bass player to accentuate just how low “Sick of Myself” gets, in every way; sitting cross-legged next to her acoustic guitar picker during “Favorite Crime.” That latter song was the secret weapon of her debut album, just as “Lacy” is the sleeper of the latest release, both of them being faintly downtrodden acoustic numbers that use out-of-nowhere harmonies in the choruses to unexpectedly float to the heavens. These beauties didn’t feel any less sky-worthy in an arena setting.

Rodrigo is not one to spend much time talking about the origins of the songs on stage, beyond saying “This song means a lot to me” before “Teenage Dream,” and augmenting it with some video footage of herself as a pre-teen show-biz aspirant. Least of all was she about to give a tour audience any tease of what lay behind some of the songs that are ongoing subjects of online speculation; “Lacy” remained as gorgeously cryptic as ever. It did seem interesting that, in the setlist, she immediately followed “Déjà vu” with a stark, super-dramatic reading of “The Grudge,” which may or may not have something to do with the behind-the-scenes circumstances of the preceding hit. Was the juxtaposition sending a message of some sort, or just coincidental? She’ll never tell, probably.

But it’s not that Rodrigo was uninterested in engaging her hyper-enthusiastic audience — which nearly counted as a hometown crowd, as she noted she grew up in not-so-distant Temecula. At one point, she took a survey of the audience. Was there anyone at the Acrisure Arena on a first date? (The overhead screen briefly turned into a Kiss-Cam.) And: “By a show of screams, is anybody here with their dad? That’s sweet. My dad’s here, and he was walking around and he said he saw a dad with a ‘Dad Idea, Right?’ shirt on. So if that’s you, that’s pretty cool.”

Olivia Rodrigo performs onstage for the kick off of GUTS World Tour at Acrisure Arena on February 23, 2024 in Palm Springs, California. Christopher Polk for Penske Media

She also asked if anybody was attending their first concert, and another loud roar went up. Some of these people may have been lying, or misunderstood; the crowd skewed young, but not so young that it averaged out at “Baby’s First Arena Show.” But, yes, surely, it was true for at least a small portion of the crowd…

And to those youngsters, we would say: You’ve just officially been spoiled. Not many of your future gigs are going to involve world-class talents, caught in the preternatural bloom of youth, who happen to be equally, proficiently gifted in the areas of singing, songcraft, self-revelation and the fine art of rocking out. It’s gonna be all downhill from here, kids.

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