R&B/soul singer Ari Lennox delivered an intimate and lively performance to a packed audience at the El Rey Theatre in Los Angeles for the third date of her Shea Butter Baby Tour. It’s Lennox’s first full-fleged headlining tour — which was sold out and opened with singers Baby Rose and Mikhala Jene — and the crowd matched her animated energy onstage.
Before the red curtains opened, the packed house could be heard chanting Ari’s name as they grew eager with anticipation. A few moments before the show, Ari smugly peeped her head in and out of the curtains while the crowd cheered and applauded.
The lights began to dim and the curtains slowly unveiled to reveal Lennox’s dynamic set behind her: three shelves of mannequin heads with various wig hairstyles, resembling a hair shop. A guitarist and drums played in the background as Ari opened with “Chicago Boy,” the first track from her debut studio album, Shea Butter Baby.
As the singer began to find her comfort onstage and feel out the crowd, she was very interactive and personal with her fans. In between songs, Lennox made the experience intimate and took a moment to take a selfie with the crowd, hand someone a bottle of water, and even acknowledge a fan’s sign that read “Unblock me on Instagram, Ari!” to which she laughed and replied, “Well what did you do? There’s always a reason.”
As the night continued, Lennox performed a selection of songs from both Shea Butter Baby and her 2016 PHO project, with highlights including “Backseat” and “Night Drive.” She also performed more recent hits that the crowd knew word for word like “Whipped Cream,” “BMO,” “Static,” “Broke” and, of course, her new album’s title track. Her dynamic and sultry vocals were showcased in every song she sang, showing off her vocal range and ability to effortlessly hit the high notes.
“A lot of these songs I’ve been holding on to for a long time,” Lennox told Billboard earlier in April. “I just want the world to hear them. And then, finally, I can exhale.”
One highlight of the night was “New Apartment,” which Ari introduced by telling the audience, “We got our own apartment, we got our own shit now, no more sharing space with our roommates,” and the crowd applauded and screamed as the intro to the song played and Ari boasted about having her own place.
Toward the middle of the night, the sultry jazz-tinged “Up Late” appeared to be a crowd favorite, in which the first lady of Dreamville was joined onstage for a special surprise performance by the track’s producer Maségo. “Up Late” finds Ari lustfully singing about a late-night encounter. “Make your way to North Hollywood/ Target lingerie,” she sings over Maségo’s playful saxophone melodies. “Kissing your lips/ Dipped in backwoods tips/ I been crushing on you.”
Ari also showcased her soulful vocals on “Static,” displaying a moment of pure vulnerability and speaking about her ultimate desire to embark on a pure romance, asking for the white noise to wash over her. “You’re in control, love/ Don’t let the static drown us.” She also shouted out the producer of the track Anthony “Elite” Parrino, who was there at the show standing in the audience. A spotlight shined on him as he waved and smiled back at her.
“That song is a self-love letter to myself,” Ari told the audience of “Static” as the song faded into the background. “It’s to say that no matter what the fuck is going on in you’re life, bitch, you are in control!”
In an interview after the show, Elite told Billboard: “Our collaborations developed from a natural friendship. We both love the same kind of ’90s R&B music, so it felt very natural for me to go in this direction with her. ‘Static’ is one of my favorite songs that we’ve done.”
Elite also was responsible for producing the hit “Shea Butter Baby,” the second-to-last song of the night. Before the fan-favorite ballad played, Ari told the audience she created the song to “glamourize and glorify black women.” As the guitar intro began, Lennox delivered a smooth and intimate performance of the sultry arrangement. “This one’s for all my shea butter babies,” she said. The song came to an end and fans roared loudly as Ari took a bow and seemingly proceeded to walk offstage, ending the set. A few moments later, she came back with “Just kidding, we got one more song.”
To close the night, Ari ended with the fun and upbeat “BMO.”
Lennox’s Shea Butter Baby Tour kicked off May 12 in Pheonix and is set to wrap up on June 21 in Charlotte, NC.