Review: Chappell Roan–Naked In North America tour

Chappell Roan created a buzz in the Beehive State when concert goers, dressed in their jammies and pink cowboy hats, queued up for blocks, in freezing temperatures, waiting for the doors to open at Soundwell on Thursday night. 

Fans packed the venue for her all-ages, pajama party pop show. In whacky Utah form, the venue corralled wristbanded patrons, who desired an adult beverage, into a makeshift bar area at the rear of the concert space—a special place I like to think of as “Spirit Prison” (and spirits weren’t even on sale. Beer and cider only, though they did have an acceptable beer selection.) Forgive the rant, but inconsistent, unreasonable laws make me crazy. For example, I recently attended an all-ages show at The Union Event Center—a venue that sports full bar(s) and no Spirit Prison. After two decades in Utah, I still bristle against the intrusive and incoherent big-government liquor laws. Okay, breathe! The banishment didn’t disrupt my sight lines in this small, intimate venue.

Roan transformed the Soundwell into the Pink Pony Club, a good natured, energetic space where people gathered to celebrate campy burlesque. A drag queen trio, Veronika DaVil, Sally Cone Slopes, and Jenna Talia, opened the show lip-syncing and prancing to popular tunes like Lady Gaga’s “Bad Romance.” The three queens dealt a winning hand as the pajama clad crowd danced along and celebrated an evening of freedom of expression and inclusion. Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in St. George anymore.

Roan is a “Femininomenon.” Recently dropped by Atlantic Records, the 24-year old Missourian found her voice as an independent artist promoting her songs and videos on sites like TikTok and YouTube. Roan’s use of music streaming platforms like Spotify, coupled with video sharing outlets like TikTok, has earned her legions of fans. She worked with producer and songwriter Dan Nigro to record a string of playful yet gritty songs, most of which went viral. As her fan base grew, she worked out her stage show opening for Olivia Rodrigo and Fletcher in 2022. Then, with only an EP and a handful of singles to her musical credit, she boldly hit the road as a headliner. Most bands tour to promote their release of a new album. Roan’s Naked in North America tour has sold-out across the country on the strength of several recently released singles. Nevertheless, on Thursday night, she played a full 13-song set that featured many unreleased tunes. But, her fans already knew her music. When she opened with her internet hit, “Naked in Manhattan,” the 600+ crowd sang along to every word. 

Her art resonates with young adults today, much like those who came of age in the mid 1990s listening to Alanis Morissette sing her hell-hath-no-fury anthems. So, given my late-boomer status, I was stoked when Roan covered Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.” Her version exploded with all the angst and intensity of the original. It felt like the torch had passed. Considering Roan was born three years after Morissette released it, “You Oughta Know” is a song with staying power. Wronged lovers are still “here to remind you.” Roan’s three-piece band nailed it. They provided a wall of sound all night with only a drum, bass and guitar. 

The audience sang along, reaching a crescendo when Roan played her recent hits, “Casual” and “My Kink is Karma.” In cheerleader fashion, she taught the crowd moves to her yet to be released song, “Hot To Go.” Think Village People’s “YMCA” – but in this case, the audience spelled out “H-O-T-T-O-G-O.” A video of her performance (from a show two weeks ago) is already on YouTube and the song hasn’t even been officially released. 

For her encore she came out wearing her signature pink cowboy hat and sang “California” before ending the show with,“Pink Pony Club.” She said the song was about a club in West Hollywood, but Thursday, it was in Salt Lake City. Roan, her band, and the audience sounded great, thanks to the club’s acoustics. The venue lived up to its name, Soundwell. 

Roan is a self-described thrift store pop star, a Do-It-Yourself Taylor Swift, but more dark and edgy –a thrifty Swifty (If I dare coin the term.) She’ll be selling out bigger venues soon enough (but probably not crashing Ticketmaster quite yet). She’s an artist on the rise. Her sold-out performances, a growing, adoring fan base, drag queen openers, and her social media skills spell success for Chappell Roan. I’m glad I saw her in a smaller, intimate space even if I had to do time in Utah’s Spirit Prison while I was there. Unfortunately, I was overdressed for the occasion. But, if I wore MY sleepwear to the Naked in North America show, I’d probably end up in actual prison.

Who: Chappell Roan

What: Naked In North America tour

Where: Soundwell

When: Thursday, March 9, 2023

John Nelson
John Nelson
John Nelson covers the local music scene for Salt Lake magazine. He is a 20-year veteran of Uncle Sam’s Flying Circus with a lifelong addiction to American roots music, live music venues, craft beer and baseball.

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