As the lights go down at SZA’s sold-out Madison Square Garden show on Saturday night (March 4), the twinkling opening keys of her track ‘PSA’ are barely audible over the deafening screams of the crowd. From that moment onwards, the legendary venue seems to be under a high-pitched screaming spell, with revellers only pausing to sing along to the lyrics or to pick up their phones and capture what’s playing out on the elaborate stage set-up.
Gigantic screens soon lift from the stage, with SZA perched on the edge of a diving board. Behind her, visuals of a deep-blue ocean crashes behind her emerge behind her, mirroring the artwork for her mammoth 2022 album ‘SOS‘. When the final note of the track plays out, visual trickery appears to show SZA tossing her mic and diving headfirst into the water amidst a flash of white light. It’s a dramatic start, but why shouldn’t SZA fully go for it? She’s entered her imperial phase, with ‘SOS’ breaking numerous chart records in the US leading to this, her first (and final, she claims) full arena tour.
There’s no question that SZA’s passionate vocal range – a key component for her success – is the main character here, even with fans’ ecstatic singing drowning her out. Still, The Garden’s transformation into a seaside spectacle is special. During her solo rendition of ‘All The Stars’, a track she shares with Kendrick Lamar, the stage takes on the shape of a crabbing boat, as SZA and her dancers act out choreographed moves on the deck. At one point, the lifeboat she sits in hangs from the centre of the arena and she recites the biting lyrics of ‘Ctrl’s legendary opening track, ‘Supermodel’. The boat rocks towards a lighthouse that’s been erected on the other side of the auditorium, shining blinding lights as it scans through the crowd.
Equally awe-inspiring, however, are the two surprise guests that SZA invites along. First, Phoebe Bridgers joins to give their collaboration ‘Ghost In The Machine’ its debut airing, beaming and hugging each other after they duet supremely. Moments later, Bronx hero Cardi B joins for ‘I Do’ before the rapper swings into a rendition of ‘Tomorrow 2’, her viral track with GloRilla. “This girl is so kind to take time with two children and a bajillion-dollar career to come here,” SZA says.
Spectacles aplenty, then, but nothing overshadows the fan reaction to ‘Kill Bill’, her most recent hit single. Moments after intro arrangement plays, the audiences start to shout (not sing) every word while SZA’s voice gracefully pours out murderous lyrics about her ex. She wields a ball and chain as the audience chants back her anti-alibi: “I’m so mature/I’m so mature”.
The close of the show reflects its beginning with SZA back on the diving board, this time wearing a white feather-trimmed dress and singing ‘Good Days’. She bids thank yous aplenty – to the fans, her family and friends in the audience – to provide a touching send-off for a star still new to these surroundings. But theatrics aside, she possesses a key quality that can’t be topped: “she is just a phenomenal songwriter” one fan notes upon exit. Few, if any, can hold a candle to SZA’s supreme talent, as tonight shows.
‘Seek & Destroy’
‘Bag Lady’(Erykah Badu cover)
‘Ghost In The Machine’ with Phoebe Bridgers
‘I Do’ with Cardi B
‘Tomorrow 2’ (GloRilla & Cardi B cover) with Cardi B
‘All the Stars’ (Kendrick Lamar & SZA cover)
‘Garden’ (Say It Like Dat)’
‘Doves In The Wind’
‘Nobody Gets Me’
‘Kiss Me More (Doja Cat cover)’
‘I Hate U’