REVIEW: Ari Lennox stuns during her ATL tour stop

This generation’s Mary J.

Ari Lennox. Dreamville:Interscope Records
Photo credit: Courtesy Dreamville/Interscope Records

Ari Lennox has one of this generation’s best voices, without a doubt. Her soulful timbre matches the emotion and strength of some of our greatest singers. She is this generation’s Diana Ross, our Minnie Ripperton, our Mary J. Blige. But, with the advent of recording studio software like ProTools and Auto-Tune, the question asked of every new singer is, “Can they sing live?”

But first, some background. Although the sound of many of Ari’s songs would fit in seamlessly with those by artists mentioned above, her songwriting cements her firmly in the present. These are love stories for the millennial/zoomer generations, who are finding relationships through dating apps, navigating hookup culture, and doom-scrolling through harmful beauty content on social media.

The title of Lennox’s second album, Age/Sex/Location, highlights her authority on such topics. (Also referred to as ASL, the slang was used in pre-social media chatrooms to learn about the faceless people with whom one was chatting.) This reference also establishes the DMV crooner as a veteran of digital dating, a voice for the mid-t o older-millennials who were looking for love online long before Tinder, Bumble, or Hinge. Lennox knows the isolation and perpetual rejection one feels when the dating pool is the size of an ocean. A metaphor that could’ve fit nicely into ASL and its accompanying tour’s opener, is “POF,” a shortening of “plenty of fish,” one of the internet’s first popular dating sites and a saying for the nearly endless people available for a romantic relationship.

To first answer the question asked two paragraphs ago, simply put, Ari Lennox’s live voice is perfect. With one-to-one reproduction of the recorded vocals, you’d think she were lip-syncing if your dumb ass didn’t know better. To be able to hit the powerful runs she does on every song for an hour-and-a-half is a testament to her immense talent. I’m convinced she could have recorded both of her albums back-to-back in a single take — if she wanted to.

Onstage, she performs not as an inhuman idol above us mere mortals, but a friend. Make no mistake, she looked incredible and moved with the grace and comfort of a seasoned singer. However, those moments between the songs and her overall demeanor were sociable. She complemented people’s outfits and hair, pointed out specific fans who were going crazy, and shared her experience living in Atlanta. At no point did Lennox feel untouchable. She was as personable as her music.

Speaking of her music, let’s talk about the setlist. I have decided that the best time to see any artist perform a headlining set is when they have two full-length projects out. At this point, they can seemingly play their entire discography, save for songs that don’t work as well in a live setting. Now, I would have loved to have heard every song form ASL and Shea Butter Baby, but Ari hit all the highlights, and some of my favorite B-sides, from both projects. She even threw in some selects from her various EPs.

Highlights included the energetic “Stop By,” the raunchy groove of “Hoodie,” the sensual “Up Late,” and the encore, “Pressure.” Honestly, the whole performance was the highlight! And her band… phenomenal. This is music that can’t not have a live band, and they made the songs even better than the recordings. “Gummy” included a segueing into Mary Jane Girls’ “All Night Long” — the song it samples — and “I Been” had a genius breakdown into the instrumental break from Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” that is so gratifying.

I really fucking love Ari Lennox y’all. I could go on and on about this concert. I didn’t even mention that the legendary producer Jermaine Dupri came out to perform “Welcome To Atlanta,” one of the most iconic Atlanta records ever — yeah, that happened. I had been wanting to see Ari Lennox for at least six years, and she blew my expectations out of the water. I heard something about Lennox saying that she was going to stop performing live after this year, which would be such a shame. If that does happen, at least I’ll be able to say I saw her, and you didn’t. Haha. —CL—