REVIEW: SZA and Omar Apollo take Oakland Arena on a two-hour tour


SZA performs at Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 14, 2023. Matt Pang/STAFF.

OAKLAND — When SZA headlined Outside Lands last summer, more than five months before she released her smash second album SOS, she already had the nautical concept of her current tour.

As with that festival set, the singer and rapper took a packed-to-the-gills Oakland Arena underwater and through a stormy sea. But the story is much more fleshed out now, with more connected cinematic, grandiose scenes, with bigger props, bigger video screens, dancers, a band and even a raft that flew the artist, born Solána Rowe, from the main stage to the back of the arena floor and back while illuminated by a beam from a lighthouse positioned near the back of the floor.

Last summer, she had already been performing a few songs that would make SOS, but she ran efficiently through the majority of the album and covered nearly 30 songs in under 90 minutes. Along the way, she had to contend not only with the production spectacle and fans screaming along to nearly every word but an echoey mix that often buried the intricacies of her singing under the music.

Muddled sound not withstanding, it was a sight to behold.


SZA performs at Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 14, 2023.

The stage looked like a giant box, covered by video screens on all sides. An even bigger screen covered the back of the arena behind it. The top of the box was pulled upward, revealing SZA sitting on a diving board, projected against a turbulent sea—the SOS album cover. Her band was clustered to both sides of the stage. After singing unreleased song “PSA” in this position, the box top was lowered again, replacing the star with an animated silhouette of her, tossing he microphone into the ocean and following it down.

The pace went up a couple of notches on “Seek & Destroy,” which was set on a dock that that incorporated large physical props into the high-tech wizardry of the production, which remained the setting for several others songs like “Notice Me” and “Love Galore.” SZA synchronized with her dancers at times, pranced around and paced at others, fans copying her movements. Underneath the bombast were stories of loneliness and complex emotional states. The thousands of fans knew all the words, which made the actual vocals sounding a bit like they were underwater a non-issue.

Following “Broken Clocks,” SZA changed from the hockey-style yellow jersey she was wearing to an all-black outfit, blasting through the short rendition of “Forgiveless” and “Used,” as the setting changed from the dock to a sort of boiler room underneath. Then during “Blind,” about SZA’s self-protecting tendencies that isolate her, this room flooded.


SZA performs at Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 14, 2023.

During retro R&B number “Shirt,” SZA and her dancers worked physically stretched out against a stunning backdrop of blue day glow bubbles. But that was just the warmup act. The show’s next act was a highlight that demonstrated her genre-fluid artistry while the the scene changed and whirred at a faster clip, moving from a submarine to a rusty fishing vessel, which goes on a hero’s journey before meeting a watery end.

“Smoking on My Ex Pack” is a contender for most unique performance of the night as the big box on stage shut once again, and then SZA walked inside, her costume change broadcast via video outside of the box. Spitting scintillating and accusatory bars, she reminded fans of her hip-hop credibility. And she used her Kendrick Lamar collaboration, “All the Stars,” for the biggest reveal of the night: “How did they build that huge ship in just three minutes!?” as the box reopened, with her letting loose from its deck.

Beat-heavy pop song “Prom” gave SZA an opportunity to really belt and dance. The punky ending blended well with the next two tunes. “Garden (Say It Like Dat)” featured the guitarist joining the captain on the ship, wailing on a Prince-like guitar solo. Then pop-punk number “F2F” even included some head banging, both by SZA and the people on the arena floor.


SZA performs at Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 14, 2023.

SZA sucked all the air out of the room with “Drew Barrymore,” singing while seated on the stage floor, next to her ship as the waves lapped against it. A couple of songs later, her ship was now maneuvering through a storm during bass-laden hip-hop song “Low.” SZA put an exclamation on this intense moment by doing a splits on the deck of the ship.

The ship capsized and sank, but not before a raft lowered from the rafters. SZA, now in a yellow gown, climbed aboard and was transported through the air to a lighthouse that appeared at the back of the arena floor. This was the show’s big climax and highlight, not only because of the big dramatics, but because the acoustic arrangements of the songs she performed while flying through the arena allowed her impressive vocals to finally shine through clearly. These included “Open Arms,” the combination of “Supermodel” (a highlight from 2017’s CTRL) and “Special,” the Mazzy-Star-like “Nobody Gets Me,” and poppy ballad “Gone Girl.” Juxtaposing against this sweetness was the subject matter of the songs themselves: self-doubt, insecurity and loneliness.

Omar Apollo

Omar Apollo performs at Oakland Arena in Oakland on March 14, 2023.

The show’s final movement began underwater, next to a large anchor and surrounded by schools of colorful fish, for the new album’s anthemic title track. SZA followed that up with her Doja Cat feature, “Kiss Me More,” which worked the crowd up another notch. Jazzy downtempo tune “Love Language” and melodic “Snooze” again showed off her singing range and delivery, before the rage-filled, Tarantino-inspired “Kill Bill” had SZA acting out her bride fantasies by taking out a bunch of exes with a spike on a chain while salsa-stepping across the stage, the screen behind her filling up with stylized blood spatters. The vocal vinegar of “I Hate U,” which followed, didn’t quite have the same effect as SZA picked up a bouquet of flowers placed on the stage. It was plenty fun, though, with a sound much bolder on stage than on record.

She ended the show with fan-favorite “The Weekend,” which elicited as loud a cheer as anything, before concluding with “Good Days.” While the sound mix could have been better, covering some of the nuance of SZA as a songwriter, the artist didn’t let the production overtake her own performance.

The evening got off to a rocky start with a delay in doors opening, which led opener Omar Apollo to cut a couple of songs from his set. But the on-the-rise artist was still able to show off his chops. Backed by a band and sometimes playing a guitar himself, he ran through about 10 songs, including several from his debut album, Ivory.

For power ballad “Petrified,” Omar Apollo showed off his powerful pipes as he stood motionless behind his mic stand. During the smooth soul tune, he crooned softly while making hearts with his hands at the fans in the front. The crowd screamed at the opening guitar notes and then sang along to harder-edged rocker “Invincible,” but gave as much love to new song “3 Boys,” a slow dance of a song with a falsetto delivery.

Dressed in a leather jacket over a tank top and dark jeans, Apollo didn’t move around much, letting the songs do the talking. After funky banger “Kamikaze” and the devotional “Want U Around,” Apollo finished off with “Evergreen,” on which he was nearly overpowered by thousands of people screaming the chorus.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at

No Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *