“I’ve had a long day, we fought to get here, so let’s fucking do it,” SZA declared to several hundred fans at a surprise pop-up show on Tuesday (Oct. 1), many of whom had been camped out in front of New York City’s Lower East Side venue The Box for several hours waiting to get in to the free gig.
The R&B singer announced the last-minute show on Instagram earlier this week with a teaser photo she captioned: “NEW YORK IM COMIN EARLY ..free n secret.” The result was nothing short of mayhem; fans flocked to the street hours ahead of the scheduled show time to claim a spot in line, desperate for a chance to see the TDE signee (very) up close and personal. Only 250 people were let in, including SZA’s mom, dad and yes, Rihanna.
An hour after the doors were scheduled to open at 6 p.m., police lining the block were still asking the dense crowd to “please go home” following initial confusion that the show had been cancelled altogether. But by 7:42, people started flowing into the ornately designed space, lined with circular, semi-private booths with gorgeous vintage wallpaper depicting explorers and greenery that looked worn, as if it had been up since the venue opened a decade ago. At exactly 8:30, SZA finally stepped onto the tightly packed stage that just barely had enough room for her three-piece band. The show would go on.
AHHH!! YALL MAGICAL AS FUCK! THIS VENUE SMALL AF AND THE NEIGHBORHOOD TRIPPIN BUT I SWEAR TO GOD IMMA GIVE YALL A BIGGER FREE SHOW ASAP !!—- pic.twitter.com/p9gNUE84jJ
— SZA (@sza) October 10, 2017
SZA immediately stunned with her soaring vocals on “Supermodel” and scatted at the end of “Anything” before confirming “Y’all are my fucking family. We’re doing the whole tour set.” The hour-long set included nearly all 14 tracks off her breakthrough (and recently certified gold) album, CTRL and also older material like her Chance the Rapper collab “Child’s Play” and “HiiiJack,” both off 2014’s EP Z.
“Anyone know me before CTRL?” SZA sheepishly questioned. The packed room cheered. “I want to believe you really badly,” she replied.
SZA’s adorably giddy and open-book persona shaped the loose, conversational vibe of her live show. She ended nearly every song in a warm and wide smile, and prefaced most with a story: “Who was popular in high school? That’s a trick question, you’ll get clowned in here. I was awkward and wanted to be normal,” she said before “Normal Girl;” she introduced “Prom” by saying, “I didn’t go to high school prom, I went to Florida with my mom instead, so I wrote this song about the party I never went to.”
Elsewhere, she welcomed friend Travis Scott to the stage for a high-energy, expanded delivery of their gold certified song “Love Galore” (which included head banging and impassioned dance move from SZA) and later ended the seemingly too-short set with CTRL closer “20 Something” as a disco ball illuminated the intimate space.
A last-minute free show, overwhelming crowds, need for on-site policing of the area and a delayed start time would most often end in a logistical mess. SZA pulled it off; however, it’s likely she can’t again. Earlier in the set, she asked “How many people feel like they’re not the same person they were 10 minutes ago?” She raised her hand, as she should have. By the time her good-intentioned, vocally impressive pop-up show was said and done, SZA had become an even bigger star. Someone should write her a letter to let her know.