Liveshot: SZA closes out ACL’s first night with visually stunning headlining performance

Reya Mosby and Sage Dunlap

Blue lights emitting from the Honda Stage sporadically shined through Zilker Park as the opening notes to “All the Stars” by SZA played for a crowd that seemed to stretch for miles. Her dancers soon appeared, bathed in blue light, moving in dramatic fragments to the song’s beat. The audience rumbled with cheers and applause as the spotlight lit up SZA while her bright, pointed voice rang out singing, “love, let’s talk about love.” 

Headliner SZA closed out the first night of Austin City Limits Music Festival with a stunning performance, emphasized by visual production and dance. The nautical-inspired set, which placed the performer amidst an old lighthouse and rusty boat doc, created a theatrical backdrop for the R&B singer to showcase a variety of songs, predominantly from her 2017 album Ctrl

In 2021, the singer canceled an Austin tour date just hours before the scheduled performance due to an unexpected illness. During her ACL performance, she expressed gratitude for the Austin audience that showed up to support her regardless. SZA then assured audience members that ticket holders who missed out on the 2021 show will receive reimbursement in the form of tickets to her upcoming tour — a promise met with great excitement from the crowd. 

After a stunning performance of “Shirt,” a song which gained popularity after a snippet of the track earned viral attention on TikTok, SZA sat down in a boat raft and addressed the audience. The artist opened up about the fears she faced when first entering the music industry and grew emotional when reflecting on the gratitude she now feels for her fans. 

“I’m really grateful to be here and that y’all show up for me and care,” SZA said.

The singer also performed multiple tracks from Ctrl (Deluxe), gifted to fans as a surprise release in June to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the original album. Additions from the deluxe album included “Love Galore (Alt Version),” a self-love anthem which includes an additional verse from SZA, and “Tread Carefully,” which marked the artist’s first ever performance of the track. 

As could be predicted, “20 Something” and “Good Days” served as stand out numbers for the performance. After bringing the audience down to a more vulnerable and calm mood without huge production and dance elements, the singer began “20 Something,” which felt like an intimate conversation between SZA and listeners. Her voice and tone remained seeped in yearning and full of emotion throughout the song, emphasized by the simplicity of her musical lines. 

However, “Good Days” took on a more positive feel, radiating love, light and resilience. With SZA submerged in golden light while singing the fan favorite, delicate guitar strums and an R&B beat followed by her hopeful tone that sat in her signature resonant mix left the audience in a state of pure contentment for the rest of the show.