Before making her entrance to the Met Philadelphia stage Friday, Olivia Rodrigo was serenaded by the prerecorded voice of Harry Styles, joined by 3,400 people in the room.
“I live for you, I long for you, Olivia,” the assembled throng sang along to the lead-in music, expressing devotion via One Direction’s 2015 hit, “Olivia,” a song not actually written for the ascending pop star, though it felt as if it had been. “I’ve been idolizing the light in your eyes.”
With that, Rodrigo hit the stage and immediately got busy demonstrating how she has earned that adoration with songs from Sour, her 2021 breakout debut that gives its name to the concert tour that set up shop for back-to-back sold-out shows at the North Broad Street opera house.
The first of those songs was “Brutal,” the lead track from Sour. It started with a brief string interlude before a crunching guitar riff slammed in, and the 19-year-old songwriter voiced an opening line that embraces the tumult of teen drama: “I want it to be, like, messy.”
That set the table for a short but oh-so-sweet night of sharply delineated teen angst that perfectly captured the frenzy and torture and delight of being young through an expertly executed pop-punk lens.
“If someone tells me one more time ‘Enjoy your youth,’ I’m gonna cry,” Rodrigo sang, while a crowd made up almost entirely of teenage girls held up phones and sang along with all their might as if Rodrigo’s words absolutely defined their beings.
“They say these are the golden years,” the star of the Disney+ show High School Musical: The Musical: The Series sang. “But I wish that I could disappear / God, it’s brutal out here.”
That notion is of course one that resonates far beyond teendom these days. As does Rodrigo’s music in general, which she played with the support of a crisp, energized, five-piece, all-woman rock band Friday.
The Southern California native’s songs, which are penned along with producer Daniel Nigro, are consciously placed in the lineage of mostly female rockers and pop stars that have come before her.
That connection was felt in her choice of covers, which included Avril Lavigne’s 2002 hit “Complicated” and No Doubt’s bouncy 1995 romp “Just a Girl.”
The addition of the latter to the set was no doubt inspired by Rodrigo’s attending the Met Gala with Gwen Stefani earlier in the week. Introducing the song, Rodrigo called Stefani “the coolest human in the world.”
Rodrigo follows Billie Eilish as a whip-smart, self-aware pop star whose connection with her audience is natural and immediate. As fervent as the screams of delight were when Eilish played the Wells Fargo Center in January, they could hardly compare to the ear-bleeding decibel levels achieved at the Met pretty much throughout Rodrigo’s set.
Eilish and Rodrigo are very different artists,
but the comparison is useful because where Eilish presents as an arty artist of substance who leans toward the goth, Rodrigo comes across as a more mainstream Everygirl. The singer who had to learn to play guitar at 12 to get a role in Bizaardvark, her first Disney show, writes universal heartbreak songs that are unabashedly suburban.
Rodrigo’s star-making single “Drivers License,” which she started off playing on solo piano before her band thundered in, finds her circling the house of the boy who betrayed her. Elsewhere on Sour, she disses her own parallel parking skills.
That show-biz experience showed in the composure with which Rodrigo carried herself throughout the 59-minute show, giving people what they want and leaving them hungry for more. Her vocals were more than effective enough (though often hard to hear due to competition from her ardent fans).
The show was well-paced, and stage patter was cheery, with a surprising word choice to describe her first impression of Philadelphia: cute.
Kids going to their first rock-and-roll show could hardly have found a better starter kit than a Rodrigo show. Before “All I Want,” she described the pre-Sour track as “the song that made me think I could be a real songwriter and call it my job.” While she sang it, a boy I would guess to be 6 stood holding his phone with his back to the stage, filming himself singing along while watching Rodrigo on the screen over his shoulder.
The concert opener, British songwriter Holly Humberstone performed solo for a full 40 minutes. She accompanied herself on guitar and piano and programmed beats.Her sound was swallowed up in the cavernous room, but she connected anyway.
Lines were long (but fast-moving) to get into the concert, where proof of vaccination was required.
Olivia Rodrigo’s Philadelphia setlist
“Complicated” (Avril Lavigne cover)
”Hope Ur OK”
”Enough For You” / “1 Step Forward, 3 Steps Back”
”All I Want”
”Just a Girl” (No Doubt cover)
Encore: ”Good 4 U”