Ari Lennox performing at the Paramount Theatre in Seattle, WA. Photo Credit: Chloe Sarmiento
Even if this is her last tour, the Ari Lennox concert at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre proved she’s already a celebrated neo-soul artist.
Last year, after releasing her highly-anticipated sophomore album Age/Sex/Location and announcing a tour in support of the project, Ari Lennox ended 2022 with a surprising revelation — that this would be her last tour. In a since-deleted tweet, the singer wrote: “Age Sex Location will be my last tour. I love my genuine fans so much and can’t wait to give you my all every night.” A number of fans responded to the news, saddened to hear that if that they didn’t get tickets for this upcoming tour, they may never get the chance to see an Ari Lennox concert ever again.
Although the message surely came as a surprise, it felt like an extension of the dissatisfaction Lennox has either explicitly spoken or alluded to in regards to her music career in recent years. In 2019, she was snubbed at the Soul Train Awards, hoping to receive a trophy for her beloved debut album Shea Butter Baby. In response, the artist voiced her frustrations on Twitter, where the since-deleted tweets found her explaining why winning an award meant so much to her, as well as her seemingly saying that she was going to quit music. Then, at the top of 2022, she took to Twitter to declare that she wanted to be dropped from her labels Dreamville Records and Interscope Records, sharing in the since-deleted tweet: “I want to be dropped from the labels. I’m done and tired.”
This, paired with a few recent headline-grabbing incidents in between — Lennox being inappropriately asked about her sex life on a podcast, as well as being arrested in Amsterdam after accusing a woman of racially profiling her at an airport — and the downright disrespectful remarks that have been made about her appearance on social media, presumably haven’t helped. Lennox hasn’t been shy about expressing or suggesting a want to quit music (or, at the very least, take a break from it), a trend that we’ve unfortunately seen among other Black women artists, too.
So, when the singer took the stage at Seattle’s Paramount Theatre last night (Thursday, February 9), it was hard not to think about this. To wonder if this singer, revered as one of today’s leading figures in R&B and neo-soul, was already embarking on the swan song part of her career? If she is, there’s nothing that seemed to point to an ending during last night’s performance. There was no “final” or “last” tour merch, and Lennox didn’t bring up the tweet during her set. But even if it was one of her last concerts for a tour, it didn’t feel bittersweet. More than anything, it felt celebratory.
With a yin and yang sign adorned with Lennox’s name flashing behind a translucent, a veiled Lennox (along with her all girl band and three backup singers) took the stage. The artist’s set started off with a bit of mystique, her shadow moving across the stage as she went into Age/Sex/Location opener “POF.” Then, the curtain opened, revealing Lennox in a sparkling one-piece, taking in the applause and cheers from fans in attendance. What followed was a mostly streamlined performance, with Lennox occasionally taking time to speak to the crowd in between playing songs from Age/Sex/Location, Shea Butter Baby, as well as cuts from EPs like 2016’s Pho (“Backseat”) and 2022’s Away Message (“Queen Space” and “Gummy”), and even her feature on Jazmine Sullivan’s “On It.”
Across the 21-song set, Lennox showcased her versatility as a vocalist, able to go from a low and subdued croon to belting with a controlled intensity that left notes ringing throughout the almost 95-year-old venue. On record, it’s obvious how great her vocals are, but live they’re even more captivating and commanding, with her trio of backup singers providing a foundation for her to not only execute the runs she does on her projects, but play around with them, too. Those singers — Blanche J, Dexter Jordan, and Kristen-ilycia Lowe — also had their moments, with the latter having a notable standout performance when Lennox did “Leak It.”
But just as great as the vocalists was the band keeping everything intact: keyboardist/organist E. Miché Russell, bassist (and multi-instrumentalist) Vidie, and drummer Venzella Joy. Playing alongside the instrumentals of the tracks performed, the band brought the productions to life in subtle but impactful ways, whether that was hearing “BMO” and its defining bass melody being played, or hearing the band reconfigure a part of Elton John’s “Bennie and the Jets” to fit the last moments of “I Been.” But the main highlight was surely Vidie and Joy’s pocket during their performance of “On It,” the bass and drums so in sync that they could compete against the neck-breaking groove of D’Angelo’s “Untitled.”
After ending her set with “Shea Butter Baby,” Lennox returned to the stage one more time and performed fan-favorite “Pressure” as her encore, waving goodbye to fans as she walked offstage and left the band and her backup singers to finish the song off. As the ensemble hit their last notes, the stage went black and the curtains returned to cover the stage, signaling that the show was over.
Lennox’s talent is undeniable — her concert only solidified that. It’d be unfortunate to see that talent no longer shared live, but if that’s what she ultimately decides to do, it should be respected. If this is actually Lennox’s last tour, hopefully each stop is as celebratory as this one was. From literally receiving her flowers from a fan to having heart-to-hearts with at least two fans during the show, at least Lennox will be able to leave the stage knowing just how much of an impact she’s had on people thanks to her music.
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