The Brew City has seen a lot of Lizzo over the past year or so. The Minneapolis-based rapper (no, she’s not on Rhymesayers, and no, she’s not in Doomtree) impressed attendees as the unorthodox opening act for Sleater-Kinney’s reunion tour stop at the Pabst last February, and she returned in October as support for…yes, Doomtree. Throw in her triumphant late-night set at last summer’s Eaux Claires festival and you’d think she’d have a pretty strong Milwaukee following. Hopefully she understands that you have many tantalizing choices on any given Saturday night upon which to blow your entertainment budget, because Turner Hall wasn’t exactly packed. The fans that did show up, however, were an enthusiastic bunch, feeding off an unsurprisingly high-energy performance for the final night of Lizzo’s first headlining tour.
Following a brief introductory set by DJ Sophia Eris, Cavanaugh opened the evening’s show. This was to be the duo’s second-to-last performance ever, as Open Mike Eagle and Serengeti (a.k.a. Kenny Dennis) are officially broken up following Sunday’s show in Minneapolis. They’d guested on each other’s songs plenty in the past, but in November they released the collaborative album Time & Materials, and subsequently toured Europe before this four-date U.S. farewell jaunt. After their first number, the two goofed on Black History Month with a sing-along of the “black national anthem” (the chorus of Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Poison”), and later on they goaded the crowd into a rousing “O’Doul’s” chant. They wrapped up their set with a handful of solo tracks each, which got the crowd amped. Cavanaugh was a fun little experiment, but both rappers seem more focused and energetic on their individual material.
Lizzo’s Big GRRRL Small World snuck out in the middle of December 2015, too late for list hype but critically acclaimed all the same. Recorded at Justin Vernon’s April Base Studios, the album showcases her impressive singing voice as well as her rhyming finesse, but it falls short of capturing the power and versatility of that voice when Lizzo performs live. She’s got the grit and sensuality of a young Tina Turner when she sings, and she goes for broke in intensity and melodic embellishment. The end result isn’t always polished and shiny, but it’s never amateurish, either, and as a rapper she’s razor-sharp. She proved equally adept at deadpan hip-hop on songs like “The Fade” and “The Realest” (which also featured the sexiest flute solo you’ve ever witnessed at a rap show) and the rapid-fire lyricism of “Bother Me” and “B.G.S.W.” (which managed to reference Limp Bizkit and Korn, for some odd reason).
Lizzo’s stage show is also no joke in terms of choreography. Along with a duo known as Big Grrrls (Grace Holden and Jessi Williams), she put on an impressive show of movement that drew contemporary and hip-hop styles into what amounted to several compact workout routines. They were every bit as provocative and charismatic as Lizzo’s songs, and they weren’t afterthoughts; the dancing was a precise and pointed counterpart to the music. The crowd was caught up in the physical vibe as well. The encore of perhaps Lizzo’s most beloved song, “Batches And Cookies,” resulted in shockwaves through the floorboards of the ballroom.
Kendrick Lamar had his red-herring single, “i.” Kanye West has, well, his entire public persona. Lizzo’s own anthem to narcissism, “En Love,” is a bit more spiritual and philosophical in nature. “I think sometimes selfishness gets a bad rap,” she said by way of introduction, and the uplifting neo-R&B groove was one of her most powerful vocal performances of the night. The other showstopper was probably her most viral song, “Skin,” which is another heartfelt celebration of self-esteem. The term “feminism” comes up in most discussions of Lizzo, and she doesn’t shy away from it; the empowerment of women is one of her favorite subjects, and with that comes the empowerment of all people. She’s a born performer, but her words never seem like part of an act. She’s got important messages for the world. She just delivers them in the form of a party.