LIVE REVIEW + PHOTOS: Ravyn Lenae, Smino & SZA -- Live at The Uptown Theater
St. Louis born R&B songstress SZA released her highly anticipated album Ctrl back in June, but loyal fans have been following her career since the release of her mixtape See.SZA.Run in 2012. Shortly after the album's release, SZA announced a U.S tour with fellow St. Louis native Smino and Chicago neo-soul singer Ravyn Lenae. From 4:00 p.m to doors, lines wrapped around both sides of The Uptown Theater. Fans discussing their favorite tracks from the artists, taking photos and anxiously waiting to get inside.
Ravyn Lenae opened the show shortly after 8:00 p.m with nothing but her DJ and her charming quips in between tracks. Since the beginning of her music career in 2014, she's released two EPs (Moon Shoes and Midnight Moonlight), signed a deal with Atlantic Records and opened for Chicago rapper Noname earlier this year. With her DJ running all of her tracks, not having a live band allowed for Ravyn's vocals to be the main attraction. Hitting high notes and varying vocal run downs garnered applause in the middle of songs and with good reason. In between songs, she talked to the crowd about everything from their favorite restaurants in Chicago to masturbation; aptly leading into her sensual track "Spice." Before performing one of my favorite tracks "Freeroom", she expressed being raised on house music and urged the crowd to feel it. With a thirty minute set, Ravyn Lenae's friendly personality and diverse discography made for an exciting start to the show.
With little time wasted, St. Louis rapper Smino blasted on stage riding an orange bike to match his orange sweatsuit. He treated the fans to tracks from his new album blkswn, including "Anita" and his successful hit single "Netflix & Dusse." Just like Ravyn Lenae, Smino has a lot of hometown pride and paid homage to St. Louis by performing "Air Force Ones" by Nelly in the middle of his set. What most impressed me about Smino's performance is his intersectionality as an artist. His live band and backup vocalists sounded as if they were raised around gospel music; which went will with Smino's pastor-like passion and energy. Coupled with gospel influences, Smino seamlessly flowed from singing to spitting all within one song. His ability to pull influences from jazz, hip-hop, gospel and trap makes him alluring to music lovers of all ages. If you missed the show at The Uptown, Smino will be joining T-Pain on his acoustic tour this October and performing at The Ready Room in St. Louis this December.
The crowd is sweaty and excited as the stage hands set the stage for SZA. After many "SZA" chants are screamed and fans get antsy, the curtains are pulled back in SZA starts off the show with the first track from Ctrl titled "Supermodel." Despite minor technical hiccups throughout the set, SZA's beaming smile and easy-going demeanor kept the audience engaged. Much like Smino, SZA expressed her love for her hometown...shouting out all the STL natives, including famous restaurant Penn Station Subs. As a person who caught onto SZA right before the release of Ctrl, I was lucky to hear every song from the album except for "Pretty Little Birds" and "20 Something"...but she also acknowledged fans who have been following her career since the beginning by performing tracks like "Childs Play" from her EP Z released back in 2013. Running on the stage doing spins and high kicks, SZA commanded the stage and the crowd reciprocated that energy. The entire crowd sang along to songs like "The Weekend", "Doves in the Wind" and one of the most popular songs of the summer "Love Galore" featuring Travis Scott.
Overall, The CTRL Tour has something for everyone and is a fun, unapologetically black time.