SZA's "S.O.S. Tour" Drops Anchor In Houston

That was the river, this is the SZA.
That was the river, this is the SZA. Photo by Violeta Alvarez
Toyota Center
October 14, 2023

Getting older doesn't have to guarantee the calcification of your tastes in music and such, but it often does. I can't peg it to a specific generation, but you see the evidence all around: from the grandparents who don't listen to anything post-Sergeant Pepper's to your own friends raging against the dying of the light that is hearing Nirvana in their local supermarket.

I always liked to think I was somehow beyond that, smugly scrolling through my Spotify playlists and patting myself on the back for being so much more contemporary in my music choices. Who cares if there's an inordinate amount of the Cars or Willie Nelson? There's Phoebe Bridgers, too! And Pinkshift! And Destroy Boys!

And, and, and. The truth of the matter is there can be too much to keep up with, and nowhere was that more apparent than in the lead-up to SZA's concert last night at the Toyota Center.

The crowd was, as the youths say, feeling it. Of the songs that had the audience twerking, bouncing, and dancing I recognized Drake, Travis Scott, and Ice Spice, that last one courtesy of the incessant TikTok-ing of my concert companion, my 14-year old daughter.

Of SZA (born Solána Imani Rowe) herself, I knew little aside from her collaborations with Doja Cat and Phoebe Bridgers(!). She may not have registered with me, perhaps because she's never been one to be pigeonholed in one genre, incorporating R&B, dream pop, hip hop, and any number of other styles into her set.
click to enlarge
The face of someone who could tell a thousand embarrassing Justin Bieber stories.
Photo by Violeta Alvarez
SZA kept the chatter to a minimum, briefly telling us that Houston made her think of "soul, music, and love," among other things. Other than that, each song led into the next (occasionally abbreviated) song quickly enough that 30-ish tracks blew by in slightly less than two hours.

The "S.O.S. Tour" — unsurprisingly — has a nautical theme. The opening Deck set (including "Seek & Destroy" and "Love Galore") taking place on a rather run-down tugboat stage before descending to the Engine Room ("Ghost in the Machine," "Shirt") before setting off into the Horizon (featuring "All the Stars," her collab with Kendrick Lamar).

That song received some of the biggest reactions of the night. So did "Low" and "Nobody Gets Me," which was not only prefaced by her telling us about the "10 years of my fucking life" she wasted on a bad choice of men, but also performed (along with "Gone Girl") on a raft suspended over the Toyota Center crowd. The show's overall impressive visual effects including a neat effect from the blue and green spotlights mimicking the ocean under her Lifeboat.

She may be an artist whose music defies genres and whose onstage style is more reminiscent of Erykah Badu than Beyonce, but SZA knows her way around a hook and how to give her audience what they want. Last night's tour was less an S.O.S. than it was planting a flag for an expansive new approach to contemporary music.

Personal Bias: I thought knowing about RZA and GZA was enough. How wrong I was.

The Crowd: This might be a deep pull; but remember those underage girls trying to act sexy in the movie Waiting…? Yeah, that.

Overheard In The Crowd Car On The Way Home:
ME: I don't want to see you doing that in concerts.
14YO: What, twerking to Drake?
ME: No, filming the whole thing on your phone instead of just enjoying yourself.
14YO: Oh, okay.
ME: ... But now that you mention it.

Random Notebook Dump: "They were both born in 1989 and like to sing about ex-lovers...when's the SZA/Taylor tour?"
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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar