Arts & Life

Dodie’s ‘Build A Problem’ Tour plays San Francisco, Lizzy McAlpine opens

March 28, 2022, 11:10 p.m.

A full half-hour before the advertised showtime, the block of San Francisco’s historic Market Street was lined up with people wanting to enter The Warfield. Inside the venue, fans from across the Bay Area were packed like sardines on the general admission floor, eager to see internet sensations Lizzy McAlpine and Dodie perform. Gut-wrenchingly personal, the show was carried by its near-flawless production and impassioned performances.

The San Francisco show was just one stop on Dodie’s “Build a Problem” tour, featuring McAlpine as the opener and a setlist consisting mostly of songs from Dodie’s debut album, from which the tour gets its name. Both Dodie and McAlpine owe their big breaks to their sizable followings on different social media platforms: Dodie started her YouTube channel in 2011, and Mcalpine garnered fame through TikTok.

As unique variations on the “ukulele girl” stereotype, Dodie and McAlpine complement each other in style and energy. Both took measured, minimalist instrumentations to the stage, echoing their bedroom pop roots.

Lizzy McAlpine’s performance stood its ground on the merits of emotional vulnerability and delicate vocal performance. The singer-songwriter’s signature slow songs of Gen-Z desolation translate spectacularly on stage. Her mighty guitar, acoustic sounds and honest vocal performance hit you right in the gut with how relatable and delicate life as a young adult can be. With songs like “Doomsday” from her upcoming album “Five Seconds Flat,” McAlpine was able to showcase her warm, rich vocal timbre combined with lyrical maturity. “Erase Me,” a song about post-breakup–post-hookup regrets, was superbly accompanied by bass and percussion, creating a dynamic performance.

McAlpine’s crowd-pleasers “Apple Pie” and “Pancakes for Dinner” from her debut album “Give Me A Minute” enticed the audience to passionately sing along. The room brightened for a moment as we got lost in the collective experience of youthful love and finding a sense of belonging — of home — in a world where that can feel very uncertain. By the end of the opening show, McAlpine left us wanting more, with a sense of being back in your bedroom lingering in the concert hall.

Lizzy McAlpine performs on stage, audience waves their phone flashlights in the pit.
Lizzy McAlpines performs “Apple Pie” for a sentimental audience. (Photo: PEYTON LEE/The Stanford Daily)

McAlpine’s sensitive performance was a good primer for the audience, as Dodie’s stage presence seemed to push the envelope of her showmanship from her YouTube days. Arriving fashionably late (as so many headliners do), she began offstage with nothing but a flickering backlight and a haunting arrangement of the first track of “Build a Problem,” “Air So Sweet.” She continued with a certifiable “best hits” list of her most popular tracks, including an unreleased mashup of her oldest YouTube original songs. Enhancing the entire experience was a brilliantly executed light show — hitting cues with precision and intentionality is no easy feat, and the stage design of the show appeared effortless.

All the while, Dodie commanded the stage with her irresistibly likable personality. As a YouTuber, Dodie had to set herself apart from her creative competition; as it turned out, fans were naturally drawn to the truthfulness of her lyricism. Speaking directly to quirky moments of the human experience — the imagined guilt when a friend goes quiet (“Hate Myself”) or the unfortunate code-switching to impress a crush (“If I’m Being Honest”) — Dodie made a name for herself with a bubbly attitude and a potent musicality.

Her faithfulness to that ethos is part of what made Wednesday’s performance so impressive. Switching between guitar, ukulele, keys and even clarinet, Dodie proved her incredible musical talent to an audience that had only ever seen her online. In “Four Tequilas Down,” Dodie’s return to her ukulele was particularly impactful, for her return to roots sensitively captured the emotional turmoil of a love that didn’t quite fall into place, and the futile search for yourself within others. Credit is also due to the show’s sound designers, who brilliantly captured Dodie’s signature vocal quality and instrumental (both typically subdued) while maintaining the theatrical cohesion as if we were brought into the artist’s incredibly personal bedroom.

Dodie plays her guitar as the spotlight shines from behind. Silhouettes of the drummer and keyboardist can be seen behind her.
Dodie goes solo for “Party Tattoos.” (Photo: PEYTON LEE/The Stanford Daily)

Another hit was “Rainbow,” a slow-burn, sweet track about the uncertainty and hope of coming out and coming to terms with oneself. As usual, delicate guitar complemented Dodie’s crooning voice; but once the strings joined in, the song felt elevated to a warm, knowing embrace. The rainbow LED display behind the singer was certainly a nice touch; the queer audience members resonated with the song, singing along in pursuit of self-acceptance. Similarly, the orchestral interludes “?” and “.” from the album translated beautifully on stage as haunting, meditative transitions which highlighted the band’s skills and Dodie’s compositional genius.

Indeed, Dodie’s obvious camaraderie with her band was one of the more enjoyable aspects of the performance. Whether miming kisses with bassist Pete Daynes or performing silly choreography with guitarist Orla Garland, Dodie projected a down-to-earth image with rising-star quality.

And the audience couldn’t get enough: just about every song had near-unanimous audience engagement. From “Cool Girl” to “Party Tattoos” to “If I’m Being Honest,” voices of adoring concertgoers joined Dodie on stage to build a truly heartwarming and enveloping soundscape.

After working through the “sad stuff” portion of the set, Dodie showcased the breadth of her emotional range in “In the Middle,” a carefree, enthusiastic song about threesomes, and “Hate Myself,” the poppy earworm that has served as the hit single of “Build a Problem.” The former ended with a two-minute jam session by the band that nearly tore the house down.

Broadly, the concert speaks to a few important themes in popular music today. For one, McAlpine’s continued success is evidence of TikTok’s immense influence on the industry, with artists’ relevance increasingly being determined not by studio executives, but by the masses of the app’s users. It also speaks to the viability of these platforms as launching points for more “traditional” careers: while Dodie was “just another YouTube musician” in the past, she and McAlpine are now undeniably successful and professional touring artists.

McAlpine is a gifted singer-songwriter with a golden voice, and Dodie is an emotional and musical tour-de-force. And frankly, we’re glad to see the creators we’ve followed for years show their musical talents extend beyond their bedroom walls.

Editor’s Note: This article is a review and includes subjective opinions, thoughts and critiques.

Bhumikorn Kongtaveelert '25 is the culture desk editor for the Arts & Life section and the Energy and Environment Beat Reporter for the News section. Contact The Daily’s Arts & Life section at arts ‘at’ stanforddaily.com.Peyton Lee '24 is a Managing Editor for The Stanford Daily's Arts & Life section. His interest is classical music performance, but he also enjoys pop, R&B, and jazz. Contact Peyton at plee 'at' stanforddaily.com

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