"Last night felt like an out-of-body experience," confessed Gracie Abrams, addressing the sold-out crowd at the House of Blues Chicago for the first time of the night, already having checked off a couple of songs from the setlist. "This feels real...I feel like this is really happening tonight." On the second night of back-to-back dates in the Windy City, the adrenaline of being in front of an audience again was still fresh for the 23-year-old, inspiring the rare occurrence of shared anxiety among performer and audience.
Some performers put on a show for the spectacle of it all. Their moments of spontaneity or improvisation are precalculated or ingenuine. For Abrams, the theatrics, emotions, and interactions she displayed on stage were not for show. After delivering a particularly heart-piercing lyric or album cut ("Right now"), Abrams would momentarily retreat from her keyboard, burying her head in her hands to supportive applause. When parading around the stage rejoicing in the unfiltered joy of “Feels Like”, she willfully grabbed fans' phones and disposable cameras to record herself on stage. On multiple occasions, she paused her act to offer water to those crowded on the floor who were likely too overwhelmed by her presence to acknowledge their basic needs. Aided by the songs soundtracking the night, you were never given the impression that the person on stage was an object for your personal enjoyment. Abrams presented herself just as she does in her writing: as just another human, one who feels just as much, if not more, than we do.
While Abrams' presence undoubtedly heightened the show, the ticket was worth the charge even if you'd spent the whole concert with your eyes closed. Though Good Riddance serves as her debut EP, Abrams had a collection of heavily-adored music at her disposal, with some tracks that fans were likely hoping to hear ("The Bottom", "Augusta", "Under / Over") were left on the cutting room floor. Naturally, the setlist leaned on the standouts of her latest record, but her live performance provided credence to the cliché of giving "new life" to the tracks. The recordings for Good Riddance at times fall into the trap of stagnation, the synths growing stale and monotone, with Abrams moving at a pace that is comfortable for her but perhaps stalling for listeners. The live instrumentation gave teeth to these tracks, a new pulse established within the new life these songs are offered. For fans who had likely been cramming listens of Good Riddance in anticipation for the show, these live renditions were a breath of fresh air that add dimensions to the album that are only available to those in the concert hall. Abrams contrasted this experience with the right balance of nostalgia, pulling from prior EP's minor and This Is What It Feels Like to complete the evening. She performed tracks like "21", "I miss you, I'm sorry", and "Camden" in a manner that speaks to her distance from those memories stored in the music, clearly not as weighed down by the emotional baggage that dampened her while she strummed her guitar for "Full machine". These two eras, if we can call them that, are not entirely separated though; in the middle of her set, Abrams took to the piano to perform a medley of "Rockland" and "Will you cry?", a wonderfully disorienting choice that elicited as many gasps of admiration as it did unconstrained applause from fans when the trick was revealed.
Several times throughout the night I caught myself thinking this could be a live album, a tangental entry into Abrams catalog of diaristic melancholy. I later came to the selfish realization that I'm glad that will not be the case; exclusivity is the precipise of intimicy, and to be able to now listen to the Good Riddance with a more varied interpretation of the sound that meets my ears is the result of being in the House of Blues on that Tuesday night. Its an experience I will almost certainly keep to myself, as my only contemporaries for this event were mostly women to be generous, and girls to be realistic. The pigtails and X-marked hands that I saw frequently throughout the venue are in a much different position than myself, a mere admirer of a talented singer with a dagger-like pen. For most of the young fans in attendance, Abrams will be the pop star who defines their teenage years, as Taylor Swift did for those in my generation. Well, maybe Taylor is still that empathetic figure for this crowd: when Gracie asked how many people in the room were coming to Swift's The Eras Tour, a loud majority announced their presence. To this realization, Abrams took comfort. "If I frame it in my mind as a reunion, maybe it won't be so fucking terrifying."
There was no formal announcement of the evening's final song, but there was never a doubt what the choice would be. "This song is about missing home," Abrams offered succinctly, taking her place in front of her keyboard. As the lights reflexively focused on the burgeoning star at her most vulnerable, she began to play "Right now", the final track on Good Riddance. "I feel like myself right now," Abrams repeated to a crescendo, if not sonically then emotionally, at the songs close. Then she got up from her position and swiftly exited the stage, shyly waving at fans on her way, and there was a sudden sense of abruptness that also felt appropriate. There would be no encore, as it would serve no purpose. Abrams had said her piece, and whether or not you felt is was enough or not, you ultimately understood.