Humble, passionate and intimate: three words describe Willow Smith’s performance at the Observatory in Santa Ana, CA on Sept. 14.
The first stop on the “Life” tour had the crowd packed like sardines, reminiscent of old concert days. Only this time around masks were worn to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“She represents the next generation,” said Josh Schlachter, a concert attendee. “Even though I am still a part of that generation, it still feels like, I guess, the future.”
Willow’s latest project, “Lately I Feel Everything,” has received a lot of praise for her sudden yet graceful switch from R&B to pop-punk, something that her Gen Z counterparts like Olivia Rodrigo and Meet Me @ The Altar have done for their recent albums. The revival of pop-punk is exciting and translated well in this concert.
The glitz and glamour of the pop theatricality of Lady Gaga and Beyoncéwere stripped away and the performers returned to the elements of a band: a set of drums, a few guitarists including Willow herself, donning a sick electric guitar with her black techwear-inspired dress.
The backdrop was a simple projector screen that flashed album covers from her new album from time to time, but there were no LED lights or fancy props. It was just her and the band.
She blew through the setlist, barely stopping to take a sip of her “Just Water” bottle before going on to the next song. It was hit after hit: “transparent soul,” “Grow” and “¡Breakout!” to name a few.
“You guys are so beautiful!” Willow said with a huge smile on her face, extending her arms out in appreciation. “I’m so grateful to be starting the “Life” tour with you all.”
The energy was high in the crowd. There was crowd surfing and an intense mosh pit session during “Fight Club” from “The Anxiety,” a joint project between Willow and her rumored partner Tyler Cole. Cole also opened for Willow.
Her vocals were the main highlight of the concert. While most artists stick to the original pitch, Willow experimented with heart-wrenching harmonies and unique vocal runs for most of the concert, gathering screams of appreciation and happiness from the audience.
The opening acts were a delight as well. Artist Dani Bby opened the concert, followed by Cole. Cole brought the stage into the audience by going through the crowd, making his way to the middle of the venue. We Don’t Ride Llamas, an Austin-based band, was the last opening performer before the main act. The genres between the artists were reflective of Willow’s music career from R&B to pop-punk.
Willow encapsulated boldness and nonstop action. One couldn’t help but be in awe as she breezed through the setlist, almost mirroring our fast-moving and blurred sense of time during the pandemic. It was the environment the “Lately I Feel Everything” album was created under, and it was poignant that the acronym of the album is “Life.”
After all, what’s life without some anger, excitement and powerful thoughts to deeply ponder about?
“Is “Life” giving you life?” Willow cheekily asked as the crowd screamed enthusiastically.
Yes, it does.