Dua Lipa’s star was etched in the sky during the most unusual times. When the pandemic hit and the music industry largely ground to a halt (along with the rest of life), many high-profile artists delayed their album rollouts, waiting for the dust to settle. Not Lipa.
It was a risky gambit for the burgeoning pop star, who released her disco-kissed “Future Nostalgia” at a time when bumping pelvises in a packed nightclub was actually forbidden. Just as the phrases “shelter in place” and “social distancing” entered the lexicon, the U.K. pop singer’s sophomore album hung a disco ball in our living rooms for some welcome escapism at a time when we needed something (anything) to make us feel good.
Instead of landing with a thud, “Future Nostalgia” elevated Lipa to legitimate arena headliner and on Thursday, she made her Climate Pledge Arena debut two years after its release. The biggest question heading into the show was how her straightforward dance-pop, that felt so novel two years ago, would hold up as society is heading “back to normal.” The answer came quick.
After a credit-reel video introducing her band and dancers like the cast of an ’80s comedy about a group of quirky gym friends, Lipa emerged in a yellow-green catsuit as “Physical,” one of her hardest-charging tracks, came whistling into the dark arena. The propulsive, sweat-inducing beat slipped under its “Stranger Things” synth line, greeting the full house like the warmth of your dance partner’s breath hitting your neck in the middle of a crowded dance floor.
Lipa strode the long catwalk like a nightclub queen, her shoulders dipping and fist snapping before dropping to her knees on the diamond shaped stage at the end. “Let’s get physical!” she belted, which may as well have been the evening’s unofficial mantra.
Her fans, some decked out in sequined outfits and enough fishnets to last an entire halibut season, may have been a little too stunned to obey the command. At least initially. But the following “New Rules” — with a twisted effervescence that can make anyone feel like the sexiest person in the club, even when you show up haggard and still wearing your work clothes — managed to loosen a few collars.
Lipa is a master of dance-floor hedonism, and Thursday’s show provided the move-together communion the world missed for the better part of two years. The show got off to a hot start despite being down an opener, after Caroline Polachek took a spill down her tour bus stairs, sustaining a leg injury that also forced her to nix a Wednesday headliner at Tacoma club Alma (formerly Alma Mater). In her place, electro-pop artist Lolo Zouai, who’s also on the tour, slid up to Polachek’s slot.
Lipa’s 90-minute set was essentially split into four segments, ranging aesthetically from no-frills disco party to campy Jazzercise video and ’80s sci-fi flick, at times blurring the lines between them. Production-wise, Lipa’s Future Nostalgia tour is relatively light on bells and whistles, aside from the giant convulsing lobster that joined her for “We’re Good” and the large, illuminated platform that lifted her above the crowd as if ascending a spaceship’s bridge during the disco-swaggering “Levitating” — easily her coolest stage trick of the night.
At times, the production felt light for an arena show (I’ve seen comparable lighting rigs at the old Crocodile), but it didn’t detract much from a show that ran on Lipa’s adrenaline-channeling abilities. In some ways, it emphasized the human element, putting more focus on her band and dancers — including a pair of rollers skaters who drew big cheers while making like four-wheeled breakdancers down the catwalk.
Every dance party needs its cool-downs, but some of her numbers with less octane, savory on their own, brought the energy down amid a night of club-ready ebullience. Ironically, “Good in Bed” was the least satisfying song of the night, before the flushed-face “Fever” came to the rescue. Still, Lipa proved her vocal might can stand on its own without a four-to-the-floor rhythm beneath it with “Boys Will be Boys,” a denouncement of sexist double standards that was the closest she came to a traditional ballad.
Fittingly, Lipa closed the evening with a double shot of dance-floor heaters, starting her encore with a spongy, funked-up “Future Nostalgia.” Destined to become a wedding DJ staple up there with “I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)” and that one Black Eyed Peas song, Lipa’s biggest hit, “Don’t Start Now,” brought the intimate, end-of-night abandon of the moment your favorite song comes on the TouchTunes at last call.
After a couple of cooped-up years, it was a reminder that we don’t have to be nostalgic for moments like these. We can live them again.