Olivia Rodrigo has always been better than 'great for her age.' The Guts Tour proved it

Olivia Rodrigo is the fastest-rising rock 'n' roll sensation of her generation, launching an arena tour within days of her 21st birthday in support of "Guts," a sophomore effort that returned the star of "High School Musical: The Musical: The Series" to the top of album charts around the world.

The fact that "Guts" went on to make the rounds of year-end critics' lists from Rolling Stone to Vogue to GQ's sister publication, Pitchfork, only makes the victory that much sweeter.

She’s having a bit of a moment, as they say. And let's be clear. She’s earned it.

"Guts" was one of last year’s most inspired rock — yes, rock! — releases, making good on the promise of “Sour,” the quadruple-platinum triumph that announced her arrival and gave the world “Drivers License,” “Déjà vu” and “Brutal.”

To her credit, Rodrigo is already starting to question what it means to be the thinking person’s It Girl.

As she sings on “Teenage Dream,” the bittersweet ballad that brings her second album to a poignant finish, “When am I gonna stop being great for my age and just start being good?”

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Feb. 24, 2024.
Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Feb. 24, 2024.

Olivia Rodrigo has been better than great for her age

The answer, of course, is she’s already stopped being great for her age and was already better than good when she recorded “Drivers License,” the heartbroken single that started it all, at 17.

The last time Rodrigo played in Phoenix, Arizona, she was 19, on her first headlining tour with one hit album to her name, and clearly stoked to be feeling the love of a sold-out crowd that sang along to every word in a room as big as Arizona Financial Theatre.

Less than two years later, she’s already graduated to arenas. And she rose to the occasion in her second concert of the Guts World Tour at Footprint Center (a bigger venue than opening night, for what it’s worth).

More: Olivia Rodrigo blends angst and sincerity at opening 'Guts' tour show at Acrisure Arena

Dancers, hanging moons and pure charisma brought the concert to life

Rodrigo is an unassuming, charismatic presence who invests her ballads with the raw emotion they require and her rockers with the attitude and personality it takes to put those songs across. She gleefully sneered the singalong chorus of the song that brought her set to an electrifying close, “All-American Bitch,” with conviction to spare. And she made the most of the lyrics “It’s brutal out here” on “Brutal.”

She’s added a crew of dancers to the show since last time, but let’s talk about those dancers.

One, she used them sparingly. Two, she used them artfully. The dancers made their first appearance four songs in, on “Traitor,” and it felt more like punk rockers, goth kids and art students — you know, the outsiders — doing interpretive dance than “budding rocker hires dancers.”

I've never been more smitten by a crew of dancers at a concert that rocked the way Rodrigo and her bandmates rocked at Footprint Center.

Fans line up outside the Footprint Center in Phoenix to see Olivia Rodrigo perform on Feb. 24, 2024.
Fans line up outside the Footprint Center in Phoenix to see Olivia Rodrigo perform on Feb. 24, 2024.

She also brought along a crescent moon, suspended from the ceiling in a sea of stars. She sat on that moon as it floated above the floor seats while pouring her heart out on the vulnerable ballads “Logical” and “Enough for You.”

The 95-minute concert opened with the album title splashed across the screen as melting birthday candles gave way to a video that showed Rodrigo running down a spooky hallway toward a door.

When the Rodrigo in the video knocked on the door, the actual Rodrigo and her bandmates set the tone for their performance with the riff to “Bad Idea Right?,” the second hit single from “Guts,” which quickly gave way to another hard-hitting song from her latest effort, “Ballad of a Homeschooled Girl,” one of several Rodrigo tunes whose raucous alt-rock sensibilities recall the more contagious moments of Veruca Salt.

If you don't know Veruca Salt, this is your chance to thank me later.

Olivia Rodrigo treated fans to every song on 'Guts'

This is the Guts World Tour, of course, and by the time the show was over, she’d played every song on the official album and a hidden track, “Obsessed,” from the special red vinyl edition.

Now, that’s how you promote an album.

Rodrigo and her bandmates also squeezed in nearly every song from “Sour” in the course of a performance that touched on about every song you'd ever hope to hear at a Rodrigo concert while inspiring the loudest, most impassioned singalongs I’ve ever heard in all my decades of reviewing concerts.

That’s how much her music resonates. And with good reason. She’s a gifted lyricist whose finest work speaks to the human condition with a winning blend of brutal-out-here honesty and wit.

There were plenty of moments in Saturday’s performance where Rodrigo’s voice was submerged in the sound of her audience singing along at the top of their collective lungs.

That can't be helped any more than the Beatles could have asked their shrieking fans to tone it down a bit.

She sounded great, though, in those moments when her vocals could be heard above the roughly 16,000-member choir.

Olivia Rodrigo setlist All the songs on 'Guts' tour including 'Vampire' and 'Good 4 U'

They were there for the catharsis of a shared connection with an artist who speaks directly to the way they feel about their own experience with matters of the heart.

There's no debating that Olivia Rodrigo's music is rock

Much like her albums, the concert made the most of a stylistic range that encompasses rockers dispensed with the reckless abandon of punk and the post-Nirvana side of ‘90s alt-rock (see the set-closing onslaught of “Brutal,” “Obsessed,” “All-American Bitch”) and emotional ballads that hit just as hard without breaking a sweat, from “Vampire” to “Traitor.”

I’ve seen the punkish side of her approach described as power pop and pop-punk when, in fact, it’s neither one. Her rock songs rock with the intensity of any self-respecting rock song in the aftermath of punk.

If anyone is keeping rock alive in 2024, I'm glad I got to see her concert.

The musicians she’s assembled for the Guts Tour did a flawless job of navigating that dichotomy. Her drummer rocked it, from the Dave Grohl-worthy swing of “Bad Idea Right?” to the hyper-caffeinated fills of “Good 4 U.” And that guitarist turned in a series of tasteful yet attention-grabbing solos.

Olivia Rodrigo performs new 'Hunger Games' song at Jingle Ball 2023, more highlights

Five songs in, Rodrigo sat at the piano for an understated shout-along of “Drivers License,” staying seated on piano for “Teenage Dream,” a song she said she wrote a few days before she turned 19.

“At the time, I was really afraid of growing up and all the things that I felt that that meant at the time,” she said.

Then she lightened the mood when it occurred to her that she’d just had a birthday.

“I don’t know if you guys know this, but I actually just turned 21 a few days ago,” she said, joking about enjoying her “first drop of alcohol ever” before adding, “I just want to say that I think life gets better and better.”

And with that, she started singing “Teenage Dream,” a heartfelt song that hinges on the line “Yeah, they all say that it gets better, it gets better, but what if I don’t?,” accompanied by old home movies of a young Rodrigo learning how to dream.

Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Feb. 24, 2024.
Olivia Rodrigo performs at the Footprint Center in Phoenix on Feb. 24, 2024.

Few artists in the history of rock ‘n’ roll have positioned themselves with room to grow old gracefully as brilliantly as Rodrigo has managed in her first two decades as a human being.

As she was nearing the end of her set, she stripped it down again to just her voice and a single guitarist, who grabbed an acoustic guitar to accompany the star on a wonderfully understated read on “Happier” and “Favorite Crime.”

Being able to effortlessly shift gears from a "Favorite Crime" to "Brutal" is an astonishing balancing act, and Rodrigo has certainly proven herself to be up to the challenge.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Olivia Rodrigo's sensational Guts Tour concert in Phoenix