Hammersmith Apollo London, July 7 2022
Sometime during the COVID lockdowns of 2020, I watched the first two episodes of High School Musical: The Musical: The Series. I can’t really tell you much about the show, but little did I know that this would be my first — albeit brief — introduction to the pandemic’s biggest breakout star, Olivia Rodrigo. Two years on, Rodrigo’s meteoric rise to stardom has reached a new peak as her triumphant Sour Tour concluded at the 5,000-capacity Hammersmith Apollo in London.
Rodrigo certainly had the capability to cater to larger audiences. Having one of the most successful debut albums in history, SOUR, and a Glastonbury debut worthy of legend can attest to that — yet she chose to begin her touring career in smaller venues. This contributed to the instantly electric atmosphere outside the venue, with fans so condensed that finding either end of the queue was a struggle. By the time I navigated my way there, it had managed to stretch its way around the street thrice.
This sense of anticipation did not let up once the lines eventually cleared, with a huge cheer going out whenever a song on the pre-show playlist would end. When would the prodigal daughter emerge from behind the stage curtain? The audience eventually got their answer when the opening bars of ‘brutal’ were played, soon followed by the reveal of Rodrigo, dressed in a butterfly-shaped outfit referencing the butterfly motif so present in SOUR’s imagery.
“I only have two real friends”, Rodrigo sings on the punk-infused angst anthem. Yet in this moment, it is impossible to deny that the crowd feels anything less than adoration as they scream their lyrics back to her.
Throughout her hour-long set, the crowd hangs onto Rodrigo’s every word. It’s not difficult to imagine why — every single person in the crowd has clearly memorised every lyric of SOUR. And while the energy of the room changes throughout to reflect the transitions between tracks, the enthusiasm doesn’t.
The short discography that Rodrigo brought to tour served as a double-edged sword
When the crowd adores you this much, it’s hard to go wrong. Rodrigo plays into this, taking opportunities to interact with the fans, whether that’s wearing a cowboy hat tossed on stage or simply holding out her microphone towards the crowd for a particular moment. When not strutting across the stage, demonstrating confidence beyond her age and experience, she is seated at the piano or equipped with a guitar. Not one to rely on solely her voice or the supporting band, she switches between instruments with ease.
The short discography that Rodrigo brought to tour served as a double-edged sword; there was of course a guarantee that every fan would hear their favourite song, yet filling out the setlist would be a struggle. Out of both a desire to pay tribute to artists that shaped her as well as out of necessity, Rodrigo adds to her set by playing two covers. Both songs were released before the birth of both the artist and much of the audience, but her rendition of Avril Lavigne’s 2002 classic ‘Complicated’ was certainly met with more enthusiasm than ‘Ready To Go’ (Republica, 1996).
She has what it takes to wow the fans in a live setting too
If this dampens the atmosphere though, it is only for a moment. This is helped by the moments of spectacle inserted throughout her set. An extended guitar section halfway through prologues ‘happier’ as well as provides an opportunity for a costume change —now to a shimmery silver dress befitting the ‘prom queen’ side of the album’s imagery. The curtains, which first serve to obscure Rodrigo and then to support her, later collapse upon the bridge of ‘traitor’ for dramatic effect, eradicating this metaphorical barrier between her and the fans.
Two songs away from the end of the show, everyone in the audience knew what was next. The double finale of ‘deja vu’ and ‘good 4 u’, bridged by a guitar solo in lieu of a traditional encore, closed off the night. These two songs cemented Rodrigo’s position as a sensation rather than a flash in the pan upon release a year ago. It’s only right that they now confirm that she has what it takes to wow the fans in a live setting too.
The show’s conclusion encapsulates everything that sets Rodrigo apart from the revolving door of artists who have tried — and failed — to grasp a similar hold on the industry. Her songwriting, equally effective and emotive, particularly tugs at heartstrings in this live setting. These qualities also transfer to her vocals, which without the filters of studio production get an additional opportunity to shine through. And most importantly, it’s her genuine connection with the fans which sets her apart, going beyond the petty scrambling of Stan Twitter and translating into reality. While these songs may originate from a moment of anguish, and it’s this that drew so many of the fans towards Rodrigo, the dominant emotion between all parties is one of pure joy as these words are belted out from every corner of the venue.
With a final ‘I love you London, good night!’, she disappears into a sea of purple confetti. It’s the perfect send-off to both the night and the tour as a whole.
I expect the next time Olivia Rodrigo comes to play will be quite different. With the experience of a full tour and an upcoming second album under her belt, shifts to both a full-length set and moving up to touring arenas seem inevitable. And although that might seem less intimate, there’s no doubt that it will be just as euphoric.