Chappell Roan playing the Hollywood Theatre feels like catching lighting in a bottle.
The playfully extra singer-songwriter has been on the rise this year. After first catching attention with 2020’s “Pink Pony Club”, her career really took off in the lead-up to this September’s debut full-length, The Rise and Fall of a Midwest Princess.
The Vancouver show sold out months ahead of time, when Roan started really percolating in pop culture consciousness—and instead of being upgraded to a bigger venue, it concentrated the energy into the 600-odd people in the Hollywood. Everyone is covered in glitter; everyone is excited. The energy is electric.
Instead of an opening band, Roan’s tour has a half-hour of local drag acts kicking off the night at each venue. It’s a smart move: nobody screams more than a room full of drunk patrons seeing a stunt queen do splits and dips, and Roan herself describes her lascivious on-stage act as her own drag queen persona.
Local powerhouse Batty Banks MCs proceedings, with House of Rice’s Jas Minh and upcoming drag king Androgynass delivering strong sets that get the crowd cheering (and tipping). The trio also bring up one lucky well-dressed fan onto the stage to recognize her flawless pink-and-green mine-faced aesthetic, bestowing her with a crown and sash as tonight’s top diva.
The party starts in earnest when Roan takes the stage, backed by a three-femme band. Tonight’s theme—because every Chappell Roan show has a dress code—is “kaleidoscope,” calling for every colour of the spectrum. The band are clad in oversized bikini-print tees and holographic visors; the singer herself shimmies in a superhero-esque lamé two-piece, wreathed in rainbow flowers.
Kicking off with album opener “Femininomenon”, Roan’s vocals are both rawer and stronger live. The boppy pop production on her record downplays the power of her voice, by turns pure and plaintive. She sounds as at-home conducting the single’s scream-along chorus of “Hit it like rom-pom-pom-pom/Get it hot like Papa John” as she is singing tender love songs like “Coffee”.
During unabashed bop “HOT TO GO!”, the singer takes a moment to teach the crowd the YMCA-style arm motions that goes along with the letter-by-letter chorus—which devolves into an extended call-out as she spots a single middle-aged man refusing to dance. A spotlight swings onto him, eliciting raucous laughter as she refuses to continue the set until he acquiesces to joining the youths around him in a silly little dance.
Pop is meant to be silly, Roan remarks. For all the boss-ass bitch energy of her music, it’s clear her heart is goofy. It’s camp—the sapphic kind, like But I’m A Cheerleader or DEBS or high femme camp antics. It’s all kitschy artifice, layers of greasepaint and glitter that skewer conventions to elucidate truth. What’s the point in taking everything so seriously?
Roan plays every song off the album, except one—”Kaleidoscope”—due to the fact that they couldn’t fit a piano onto the stage, and she wanted the room to “dance around”. But she plays an old song instead, “School Nights”, which says is “dramatic, but not in a fun way.” Her voice transforms into something huskier, more country, the Missouri roots coming in strong as she lays out some Midwest emo-tinged yearning for the assembled masses.
Some fans had been handing out squares of coloured tissue paper to everyone arriving for use during “Kaleidoscope”; in the song’s absence, the people decide this is the time to raise the tokens over their phone lights and create a little patchwork of waving rainbow twinkles in the crowd. (Roan seems genuinely touched by the gesture, as she is by the deluge of friendship bracelets that fans hand her at the end of the show.)
The other surprise on the setlist is a cover of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance, delivered with a dedication of accuracy to the dance moves (if not the French bridge). Roan doesn’t drastically reimagine the song, but it’s a bold swing that speaks to her influences—and, possibly, aspirations.
After a schadenfreude-laden rendition of messy ex-gloating anthem “My Kink is Karma”, the group leave the stage for a flirtatiously short break, before returning for the encore. “California” is a simple stripped-down lamentation of homesickness, before finishing with the song everyone had been waiting for.
Cowboy hats go flying. The volume cranks. “Pink Pony Club” starts up, and there’s no containing the sweaty, shouting, exuberant mess that the standing room becomes. The song is a mission statement: about embracing yourself, free from expectations, no matter what people say.
“Oh mama, I’m just having fun/On the stage in my heels,” roars the crowd back at her. “It’s where I belong, down at the…” Chappell Roan show.