Vulnerable yet vibrant, Chappell Roan’s music feels fit for late nights spent spinning beneath glittering mirrorballs. Amid the intimate radiance of San Francisco’s August Hall, the rising pop star’s breathless admirers had the opportunity to capture this very sensation on March 14.
Though Roan opened for Olivia Rodrigo and Fletcher last year, 2023 finds the rising 25-year-old vigorously stepping into the spotlight as a headliner for the first time. During the sold-out penultimate leg of her aptly named “Naked in North America” tour, the singer-songwriter bared her heart and soul onstage, engulfing the venue in a spirited wave of sensuality, femininity and free expression.
Above all else, the show embraced queer joy in a sparkling celebration commenced by three local drag performers: Hera Wynn, Cherry Cola and Mudd. Executing elaborate routines complete with expressive lip-syncing, the openers effortlessly energized eager listeners, propelling the evening forward with an electrifying spark.
The voicemail onset of “Naked in Manhattan,” Roan’s self-pronounced “queer anthem for the girls,” signaled the emergence of the main act. As the message’s introduction (“Hi, it’s Chappell!”) filled the hall, it was as if Roan was individually addressing each of her fans — a fitting entrance for the playfully interactive artist.
Clad in fingerless gloves and a ruched, burlesque-inspired mini dress, Roan animatedly bounced to the center of the stage. Shimmering like a sapphic beacon under hazy cerulean lights, she smiled knowingly during the second verse as she invoked astrology, Lana Del Rey and “Mean Girls.”
Met with deafening applause, Roan paused only for a moment before seamlessly easing into the serene “Love Me Anyway.” Enveloped in a soothing purple glow, she lulled the crowd into an amorous spell with a tranquil falsetto, then gained momentum with “Femininomenon,” a flamboyant yet frustrated number about an unfulfilling relationship.
The genre-bending artist candidly explores sexuality and heartbreak through a queer lens, her discography a shimmering kaleidoscope of pop, disco and country. Roan’s commitment to the queer community is fervently reflected not only in her music, but in her activism. Expressing her heartfelt appreciation for the three openers, Roan reminded audience members, “When you tip your drag queens, you are directly supporting your local drag community.”
Sprinkling a few surprises into the set, Roan introduced a duo of unreleased tracks from her upcoming full-length debut project: “After Midnight” and “Coffee.” After finishing the former, a sultry examination of spontaneous after-hours adventures, Roan prefaced the latter with the question: “When your ex asks you to get coffee, what do you say?” A fan in the crowd answered in the affirmative, to which Roan humorously corrected, “You say ‘no,’ babe. Whoever said ‘yes,’ shut the f—ck up!” — a response that elicited an abundance of cheers and laughter.
Beyond the infectious warmth of her stage presence, Roan proved a masterful performer with a thoughtful ability to pace the concert. About halfway through the set, she strutted powerfully across the stage and gestured emphatically with her entire body while unleashing an exhilarating cover of Alanis Morissette’s “You Oughta Know.”
She maintained this explosive energy with the cheer-inspired “Hot To Go” before decelerating into the unreleased “Kaleidoscope,” the evening’s most vulnerable number. At the keyboard, Roan crooned, “And love is a kaleidoscope/ How it works, I’ll never know,” her soaring falsetto reaching heart-wrenching heights as melancholia filled every corner of the venue.
Yet, Roan isn’t one to leave things on a sorrowful note; to close the main set, she delivered the triumphant, liberating “My Kink is Karma.” As she exited the stage, listeners collectively joined together in chants of “Pink Pony Club,” referencing Roan’s cult classic that tracks her own journey of self-discovery in Southern California.
As if summoned by the forcefulness of the deafening queer mass, Roan reappeared onstage, adorned in a bedazzled, ruby-red cowboy hat. Answering her fans’ desperate demands, she closed out the encore performance with the glimmering 2022 single, inviting everyone into a space of inclusivity and fluidity for one last time. If any audience member wasn’t part of the “Pink Pony Club” before the concert, they surely left August Hall a euphoric devotee.