The CTRL Tour
Feat. SZA, Smino, Ravyn Lenae
October 3, 2017
“This was the most important city to me.”
By the time Solana Rowe said this, it was 1 a.m. She had long exited the Ballroom stage at Warehouse Live, where she had performed cuts from her lauded debut album, Ctrl, as well as her EP, Z. Yet she was still here, and a small group of possibly 60 people was still with her, smiling and waiting to take photos.
Members of The Hive Society lounged around in the back, one of the secondary reasons Rowe, more affectionately known as SZA, had declared Houston to be the most important city on her Ctrl tour. After a previous attempt at a meet-and-greet had failed earlier in the day due to fan safety concerns, this late-night try proved successful. Every fan, whether they gained access via orange wristband or a text-message prompt, got a hug; according to SZA herself, that’s all she wanted — to take photos, hug everyone and “catch a vibe.” With The Hive Society, it felt more like a family affair; a long-distance relationship where the common goal was to give back and give thanks.
The organization partnered with the TDE singer in the days following Hurricane Harvey to take on donations for every stop on her tour. This was the epicenter of all of the giving. Which made SZA's declaration something not even the Hive Society was prepared for: All of the proceeds from her Houston concert were going to be given to the nonprofit organization, which began taking donations of non-perishable goods from individuals in the days following the storm. Their efforts got to a point where Warehouse opened its doors and allowed the items to be stored inside the Ballroom before being shipped out to Beaumont, Port Arthur and across the Greater Houston area.
It was the capper to arguably the biggest night for a female artist in the history of Warehouse Live. I was been around for the second Drake show there in 2014, the first year of Houston Appreciation Weekend. That particular crowd filled the venue all the way out to the bathrooms. SZA managed to have a similar type crowd wrapped around the building, stretched down and around BBVA Compass Stadium. Once everyone was huddled inside, everyone got a show on Tuesday night.
If you wanted to catch a glimpse of SZA onstage with the neon 'C T R L' sign behind her, you had better had been close and willing to get stepped on, accidentally or not. She bounced around, jubilant to rush through fan favorites such as “Supermodel,” “Broken Clocks,” and “Go Gina.” The crowd mostly made up of young women and twenty-somethings caught her every word, including the slinky and seductive “Child’s Play” from 2014’s Z. It was so loud inside Warehouse that all of the interplays between songs sounded like muffled chatter. That is a rarity.
How SZA layered out her setlist for Tuesday gave every song its own piece of gravity. Even if the rousing pop number “Prom” got people twisting and shaking, “Doves In the Wind” and had them singing about the concept of men who don’t deserve sex with a sassy back and forth. But fans had anticipated two moments: one, how long would they maintain their energy for “The Weekend” and whether or not “Love Galore” would have a certain special guest.
Well, Travis Scott did indeed show up, forcing fans to thrust their phones in the air to capture the moment. His infectious energy combined with SZA’s own bounce-off-the-wall kineticism pulled the TDE singer into another realm. It convinced her that even on a Tuesday night in Houston, she could add a new verse to “Love Galore,” and watch the crowd do their best to rap it back to her.
For a minute, I wondered inside my head why it was this record, an album of cluttered yet sincere thoughts about love, happiness, regret and more carried over to such an audience. This tour, even when it was announced earlier in the year felt like it was too big to be ignored. It sold out within minutes and tickets for this particular show had hit the resell market for prices ranging from $150 to $230. Everyone wanted to take in the time and songs of a woman who took her dirty laundry, imperfections, sexiness, and appeals and gives back to that. Ctrl speaks up for the modern woman. That woman who builds up her mind and heart to take on love and hope it's reciprocated, only to deal with people who are either uninterested or unwilling to elevate something beyond a one-night stand, a series of hookups or worse, the valley of the dead aka the "string along and never commit" type. Ctrl is an album about love, both interpersonal and intrapersonal. For many of the women at Warehouse Live on Tuesday, Ctrl represented every single facet of them, both good and bad.
SZA took in the moment every time she stared out into the crowd. Her orange-tinted hair, resting on her like an overflowing crown, could be spotted from a mile away. Even two hours before her show as she casually walked by the crowd making their way inside Warehouse, she smiled and waved. Fans screamed as if she were a reincarnation of Michael Jackson. “Hey y’all,” she squeaked. Girls squealed and did their best to contain themselves. There are star-making moments, and then there’s the night SZA owned Warehouse Live in ways unseen before for a female artist.
So, How Were The Openers? Back in May, I ventured over to House of Blues and purchased a ticket to see Smino, the St. Louis talent who enthralled the crowd even with a bum leg. MOnths later, he had returned as one half of SZA’s undercard along with Ravyn Lenae. Clad in a bright rainbow-colored Nolan Ryan Astros jersey and track pants, he ripped through songs from his blkswn debut with the same joyful energy he had months prior. The room may have gotten bigger and the spotlight a bit brighter but he couldn’t help but toy around with his set list, even involving classic records from T-Pain and Nelly to keep the crowd moving. “Anita” and “Netflix and Dusse” are still favorites and are among the year’s short list of nearly “perfect” songs.
Ravyn Lenae had to take on the role of lead opener and she didn’t disappoint. In a way, it felt like the same push the headliner had years ago. Her EP, Midnight Moonlight, allowed for the Chicago singer to explore spaces and themes in ways that relaxed listeners and immediately drew fans. Stage-wise, the Zero Fatigue crew member took on similar cues, performing with a “stand your ground and let the music win out” style of rhythm and flow. Once her set was over, she casually strolled over to the Studio room for an impromptu photo shoot. Unbeknownst to her, and maybe everyone else in Warehouse, that same room would probably be the most comfortable space to watch SZA all night. And even it had taken on a hundred people or two.
Personal Bias: Ctrl is one of those albums to me that you wake up to, fall asleep to and pick out a new favorite every time.
Overheard In the Crowd: “I’m gonna shoot my shot at SZA tonight, watch me.”
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SHOW ME HOW
The Crowd: A mix of earthy girls in baggy clothes, girls in chic attire with plunging necklines and cleavage and men who would readily admit to turning their head and glancing at least once. In short, every generation of TLC was there.
Random Notebook Dump: All night I had wondered who was the biggest SZA fan. Was it the girls who opting for baggy clothes instead of Fashion Nova dresses and tight attire? Was it the guys who caught themselves singing in the car to parts they normally wouldn’t sing around their boys? It took a moment before the biggest SZA fan appeared: a near carbon copy dressed in satin-colored overalls with hair just as sprawled out as SZA’s. In fact, she could have been a body double had the real version not appeared for her meet and greet. I wondered how many people that girl had fooled. Then I realized something bigger. You know you’re a star when people go to your concerts literally dressed as you.
SZA SET LIST
Doves in the Wind
Garden (Say It Like Dat)