Fresh off COVID recovery, SF’s Outside Lands headliner delivers

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No disrespect to Disclosure, but the hardest decision for most fans at Outside Lands on Friday was whether to catch Phoebe Bridgers or SZA.

Those who choose the New Jersey R&B queen were not disappointed.

Performing from atop an elevated lighthouse set on the main Lands End stage, SZA opened her set with “Go Gina,” featuring a hotshot band of musicians recreating the jazzy backing track live. Out of the gate, her voice had a sterling confidence, portraying the strength and emotional authority that’s drawn her legions of fans, almost all of whom were singing along. 

Festivalgoers cheer while watching SZA at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

At first, the lighthouse set piece seemed a bit random, but like most all of SZA’s work, it ended up conveying a sense of introspection and fleeting desire for connection. The height of the lighthouse gave fans a better view of her, and when she climbed down to stage-level, she sat with her legs hanging over the edge of a pier, fitting for the dreamy and wistful elements of her sound. A video backdrop of crashing waves shifted from dark and stormy to psychedelic, with digital fireworks exploding on screen. 

After the first song ended, she held her arms straight up, then slowly ticked one of them down to her side. Fans immediately got the clue: the next song would be “Broken Clocks,” another favorite from her 2017 debut “Ctrl.”

SZA (center) performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
SZA (center) performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Perhaps the most striking moment of the set came next, when SZA revealed that she had just recovered from a COVID infection.

“I had COVID a week ago, and it beat my ass… I was definitely fighting for my life,” she said.

She continued speaking to the crowd about how surreal the world is today, briefly addressing how women’s rights are being taken away (presumably a reference to abortion), and how the earth is even spinning faster than usual (which is true, although she exaggerated by saying it was spinning twice its normal rate). SZA just wished things were normal: cue “Normal Girl.”

SZA performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.

SZA performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.

Steve Jennings/WireImage

Although short, these simple transitions sprinkled throughout the set were welcome treats for the crowd, and felt like an intimate view into the mind of the notoriously press-shy artist.

Before “Drew Barrymore,” she shared a relatable anecdote about feeling lonely while going to keg parties when she was younger, and introduced the 2021 single “I Hate U” by telling the crowd that she had trouble forgiving because she is a Scorpio. In the moments before “Hit Different,” she stopped the band mid-intro after noticing a fan in distress at the front of the crowd. “You know that the vibes hit different,” she said pensively after the fan was safe, presumably a reference to the tragic deaths at Travis Scott’s Astroworld festival in 2021.

Other standout tracks included a high-energy rendition of “Kiss Me More,” “Doves in the Wind” (in which SZA rapped along with Kendrick Lamar’s verse) and “Love Galore,” featuring one of the most satisfying slow-build intros in pop music. During “Garden (Say It Like Dat),” her guitar player erupted into a fiery solo.

SZA performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.
SZA performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Although the first half of the set brimmed with confidence, on-stage sound troubles plagued the last few songs. SZA expressed frustration about not being able to hear herself, repeatedly removing her in-ear monitors. Despite the sound issues, she ended the set with a splash — literally.

After the last song, she jumped from atop the lighthouse onto an inflatable airbag, with the sea scene on the video screen erupting with a large splash of water. It was a cheeky moment of levity, and a perfect gift for fans that stayed loyal until the end.

SZA performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.

SZA performs at Outside Lands in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Aug. 5, 2022.

Courtesy of Alive Coverage

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