After what we’ve all been through in the past two years, every concert feels like a miracle, but a Dua Lipa show more than most. On the surface it might be easy to underestimate the heavy emotions associated with her “Future Nostalgia” album, which was famously released on March 27, 2020, just as the horrors of the pandemic were becoming clear: It’s a dance-party album that arrived at one of the worst possible times in human history for a dance party album, when there were no parties and the only dancing was done on our own.
Yet instead of striking a sour note or seeming like a cruel taunt, it was many people’s escape, their comfort food, their crying blanket — a reminder not only of what we couldn’t have, but what we longed to get back as everyone wondered, without exaggeration, when or even if we’d ever be at a concert or on a crowded dancefloor again. The album came to symbolize what we’d do again once we could — dress up, dance, flirt, sing along with strangers to shared favorite songs, enjoy the closeness of other humans while celebrating the freedom that the album’s songs came to symbolize.
And on Tuesday night at New York’s Madison Square Garden, almost exactly on the two-year anniversary of the pandemic’s beginning — as Russian missiles fell on Ukraine and the president delivered his State of the Union address to a deeply divided country — the sold-out crowd shut everything else out, because that moment was finally here.
Make no mistake, it was a moment: every major concert at Madison Square Garden feels like the center of the universe, and the crowd, an equal mix of teens and adults basically channeling their teens, was dressed to the nines — the boots alone would have made a killer photo spread in Footwear News — and ready to party. A telling sign of this took place, oddly enough, in a men’s room just minutes before Lipa went on: We allowed a deeply agitated man waiting behind us to jump the line, thinking the cause of his distress was biological in nature. But instead, as he rushed by, he said, “Thank you! Can’t miss any Dua!”
Some two years in the making, the show lives up to the moment. It’s a real pop-diva arena concert, with flashes of past Madonna, Beyonce, Katy Perry and especially Lady Gaga tours — there’s a giant video screen, lasers, a catwalk into the crowd, a confetti cannon, Dua levitating over the audience in a platform suspended from the ceiling (you’ll never guess for which song), and most importantly of all, a gang of incredible dancers who are both scenery and frontline, architecture and crowd-motivators, an infectious and effusive supporting cast who work every corner of the stage. Dancing has never been Dua’s greatest strength so the show’s design wisely makes her the strutting, statuesque center — emphasizing her real power points, her voice and presence — while the dancers orbit around her in an ever-morphing, multi-limbed swarm that’s both exhilarating and exhausting to watch. The choreography, led by Charm La’Donna (who’s also done great work for Rosalia, Selena Gomez and Kendrick Lamar), is truly next level.
The 80-odd-minute show is essentially divided into chapters that are themed by Dua’s four costume changes — a fluorescent yellow-green bodysuit, a silver-glitter number with matching boots, a black bodysuit with pink tights and black sneakers, and finally a skin-tight, semi-sheer Cher-like outfit. They’re broken up by unobtrusive, 3-4-minute dramatic pauses or spotlight performances by the dancers or the ace band led by musical director William Bowerman (which, unlike many pop shows, were actually audible over the frequent backing tapes).
The show is similarly well-paced musically, dishing out the hits at strategic moments and compensating for her relatively shallow catalog — just two albums, after all, and a handful of stray singles and features — by padding out the set with interludes, the above-mentioned spotlights and “Cold Heart,” her duet medley with Elton John. That bonding moment saw Dua and the singers seated together on the stage, singing together with Elton, who appeared pre-recorded on a video screen (funny enough, he was in Brooklyn that night, playing a date rescheduled from April 2020, and played the song with a video of Dua singing her part). There was also a surprise guest appearance from Belgian singer Angele, who came out to perform their duet “Fever,” and even a brief ’60s-style cartoon segment on the video screen where Dua was somehow in undersea peril and a giant fake lobster emerged onstage for “We’re Good” (sorry, can’t be bothered to go down the rabbit hole for the significance of that). It was a show filled with eye and ear candy with many Instagrammable moments, and the enraptured crowd took advantage — hundreds of phones were aloft even during the quieter moments. (Spoiler alert: The setlist is printed below.)
The two opening acts, Lolo Zaoui and Caroline Polachek, both had a decent crowd and well-received sets. Zaoui’s more straightforward pop had a pep and directness that translated well into an arena setting, and although the nuances of former Chairlift lead singer Polachek’s more cerebral strain of pop — she’s made some of the most innovative mainstream pop of the past couple of years, more in line with Charli XCX and Robyn than Lipa — were sometimes lost in the cavernous venue. However, that wasn’t from a lack of effort on her part: Her willoooowwy, floowwwwing arms gestures got a bit overbearing, although that may have been because one of the audience members inspired enough to emulate them was seated next to us. Be that as it may, an impressive number of her hometown audience knew the songs and sang loudly along — particularly with the set-closer, “So Hot You’re Hurting My Feelings.”
But there’s no question it was Dua’s night, and she delivered — this tour, and this moment, will be a challenge to top, but we’re looking forward to seeing what she comes up with next … which hopefully won’t have another extinction-level event to add emotional heft.
Break My Heart
Be the One
Good in Bed
Fever (with Angèle)
Boys Will Be Boys
Don’t Start Now