SHOW RECAP + GALLERY: dodie at the Riviera Theatre in Chicago, IL
Updated: Feb 24, 2022
Scroll to the bottom to see Teddy’s photos from the gig!
Dodie Clark says she’s a 7 out of 10 when I ask how she’s doing. She is sock-footed and wide-eyed in the Riviera green room, 15 minutes before her show starts. This is the seventh stop in her two-month, cross-continental tour: her largest headline tour yet.
Behind her, five powerful musicians* run through vocal warm-ups and the Chicago-based designer at her side looks carefully at her hand-crafted stage outfit. Throngs of youths with dots under their eyes buzz excitedly outside. “I’m an 11 out of 10,” one yelled next to me later. “I’ve been waiting for this since 2016!”
Build a Problem is Dodie’s first full-length studio album and the fulfilled promise of songs once found exclusively in YouTube videos or Instagram clips. In 15 minutes, she’ll hold court at the intersection of past and present, singing songs and meeting the eyes of fans made during her decade of vlogging.
Earlier in the evening, Lizzy McAlpine opened the show with a humbly arranged but formidable set. Each song was a sonic trust fall with rich lyrical imagery and only an acoustic guitar to accompany her: a perfect primer for the unapologetic intimacy routinely employed by Dodie later on.
Her set included songs that felt like secrets. Restrained string plucking and almost whispered confessions of loneliness (“How do you make a home?”) made the payoff of crescendos and being found worth it (“Home is wherever you are tonight”) in “Apple Pie.” There is an old wistfulness in the 22 year old’s voice that can only come from being raised on jazz and folk music.
From her newest release, “All My Ghosts,” to the hit “Erase Me,” produced in collaboration with Jacob Collier, McAlpine demonstrated a high musical maturity and commanded attention despite her minimal physical presence on stage. During “Pancakes for Dinner,” a woman in the crowd turned to me unprompted and said, “I bet she meditates; look how connected she is to herself. Everyone can see it, and that’s why they’re listening.” I couldn’t say it any better, myself.
When Dodie’s touring manager crossed the stage to adjust a microphone minutes later, her largely adolescent crowd let out cries of anticipation. That excitement only grew each time a crew member walked by until the drone note of “Air So Sweet” rang out, long and present, and the curtain finally lifted to reveal a shoeless Dodie half-smiling in front of a neon sign. There is no doubt that Dodie is adored by her fans.
Throughout the show, the drone note returned multiple times to ground the band as they built harmonies on top of harmonies together. It is difficult to separate voices and musical layers when they are as united as Dodie’s band. This is what Dodie excels at: pulling threads of sound from thin air and using them to construct something ambient and transcendent with only a few people. On social media, she does this with three friends and a phone camera in an acoustically gifted bathroom. On stage, she assembles a choir and an orchestra out of five musicians and the reverb button. This is the type of ear one earns after listening to oneself sing all the parts for a YouTube video, take after take for 11 years.
The lighting design complemented her harmonic storytelling with setups both gentle and flamboyant: from soft, ethereal rays punctuated with Edison bulbs and confetti (“Sorry”) to a literal rainbow flag behind her (“Rainbow”... duh). Her team successfully created an atmosphere of safety and surrealism.
What I would like to hear more of is some variance in her compositions. At least nine songs on her deluxe tour album start with a similar strumming pattern on guitar or ukulele and follow what feels like set standards in tempo, time signature, dynamics, and keys. This can lead to a sort of highway hypnosis in concert or when listening to her album in one sitting. I can’t wait to see how she’ll develop her songwriting skills in the future now that she’s released her cache of old songs. Still, the singer-songwriter is relatively young in her music-making career and has already grown so much from her debut “Rain” in 2011 (listen to “Monster” or “I Kissed Someone (It Wasn’t You)” after and tell me you can’t hear it).
In the larger sense, Dodie’s presence in Chicago and on this tour are about proving that she is an artist outside of the screen. Each time she sings something heartwrenching like “but to her/I taste of nothing at all” against the bisexual flag colors in “She” or stomps out her frustration with dating immature men in “Boys Like You,” she’s giving both her teen and nostalgic adult audience permission to feel. The emotions she writes about unrepentantly are typically those labeled “weak” and “feminine” in places where those labels are suggestions to hide who you are.
And now, that yearning and tortured self-awareness and vulnerability and hurt have legitimacy in a full length album – in an international tour that says “I am close enough to look at you across the room and sing happy birthday to you (which she did that night). You can’t hide from the feelings I sing about – from what you feel.”
Dodie exemplifies the skill to experience love and loss and growing pains and still be able to articulate it so that someone on the other side of the screen in a different time zone can connect and say “me too.” She looks you in the eye when she sings your truth. As an artist, she proves that there is life beyond heartbreak, there is art to be made, and there is nothing that can hurt you when you’re dancing out your feelings with your friends in a foreign city – shoes optional.
* Orla Gartland (guitar/keys), Pete Daynes (bass), Ross Craib (drums), Elena Abad (violin), Katt Newlon (cello)