Gracie Abrams @ The El Rey Theater 3/4 and 3/5/2022: Concert Memory

Gracie Abrams is a truly phenomenal performer. She creates an energy in the room that I've only experienced at her shows. Ever since I walked out the doors of the Roxy last October, my mind has wandered back to that room and the magical hour that Gracie captivated us all. Luckily, it didn't take long to go back. This past weekend, March 4th and 5th, I watched Gracie take the stage yet again, this time at another of my favorite LA venues, the El Rey Theater. With a whole project's worth of new songs, Gracie offered a brand new set list with the same all-encompassing experience. 

The This Is What It Feels Like Tour was nearing its end as Gracie came into LA for two sold out nights. Gracie always plays rooms that feel relatively undersized compared to her ever-rising star power. Over the last few months, she's connected with the major players of the pop world like her idol, Taylor Swift, and peers like Olivia Rodrigo, who attended Night 2 with her best friend, Iris Apatow. The room buzzed with fans who knew exactly how special it was to be in that room. Not a person that I saw was checked out, scrolling through their phone, or was begrudging in their attendance. 

For Night 1, I met up with a group of my most dedicated concert-going friends. They'd staked out a spot at the very front of the line despite the quickly oscillating weather. While most of the group had left for the VIP experience, I did get to reunite with my core group of online friends that I first met irl at the first Gracie show in October. We waited, unsure of where we would end up in the venue. None of us had VIP to the show, and we'd already watched the significant VIP line enter the venue. Barricade seemed out of the questions. 

We were correct in our assumption as the VIP crowd already had the floor a solid five rows deep. Instead of joining the middle of the densely packed sea of people, we veered off towards the elevated sides of the venue, one of the best features of the El Rey. Since I'd recently hurt my foot, I sat on one of the low retaining walls as we waited and speculated how close we would feel to the stage since our pod was farther off to the side but very close to the stage. 

After claiming our spots, we made a B-line for the merch table to claim our limited edition home-show posters. These purple, screen printed posters were hand numbered just for the 2 LA shows, and as someone who just moved into a place with a lot more wall space, I was happy to pick up some special edition wall art. I also paid $15 for a heart-shaped keychain for my new set of keys. While the prices were sky high across the board for the merch, I'm painfully aware that merch is where most smaller artists make up the money they lose on their music, so I make it a point to pick up merch to make up for the criminally low price of streamed music. 

Alix Page was the opening act for this tour. The extra fun layer, here, is that we go to the same university, as does the rest of her band, and one of my friends went to high school with all of them. I'd been introduced to her music at the start of last fall, so I was decently familiar with her set. One person even shouted "Fight on!" from the crowd as they got started. Caleb, her drummer, was fascinating to watch, and she had the crowd wrapped around her sad girl songs finger by the end of the set. Night 1, she got an isolated flashlight from the back of the room during a sadder moment, while Night 2 had the entire room aglow. 

The highlight of her set came with her cover of "Teenage Dirtbag," during which she invited the crowd to sing along if they knew it, "especially if you know it from the One Direction movie." Considering that's where we all learned it by heart, she got quite the appreciative whoop. This paired especially well with "Diana" taking everyone by surprise on the pre-show playlist. 

The wait between sets breezed by, and before we knew it, Gracie was on stage. She opened with one of her more upbeat tracks, "Feels Like," from the new project. She mixed together a fair amount of the new project with the fan favorites from her first EP, Minor. As Gracie sat at the piano, the crowd shouted "M-I-N-O-R / I'm minorly stuck," during the beginning of her set. We were trapped in a trance as she played "Camden," a dark yet pulsingly relatable ballad. During that song, my friend tugged on my arm with tears in her eyes. Gracie gulped down air during this song like she was struggling to fight tears. "Painkillers" and "Wishful Thinking" passed me by on the first few listens to the new project, but I've become obsessed with them since the show made me realize just how emotional and gorgeous they are in isolation. 

"Rockland" made me reminisce on my first Gracie show, seeing her perform it for the first time on acoustic guitar while it was still unreleased. This time, Rockland got a bit more of an upbeat feel and a shouted "If I were slightly nicer" during one of the jokes of the song. One thing that stood out to me about the first night was that, while people sung along the entire time, there were particularly funny or poignant lines that would get everybody to join in, making them stick out like vocal italics. It was an especially acute moment of connection between all of the fans and with Gracie. 

Of course, Gracie accepted round after round of gifts, as has become tradition at her shows. From stuffed animals to letters to candles to posters and jewelry, fans who think they'll end up close enough to the barricade bring a number of different offerings. Gracie gratefully accepts these, carrying them around the stage for a song before setting them against the piano. It's extremely sweet and just undeniably wholesome watching this personal exchange. This time, Gracie was particularly excited about a girl offering her a single rose and also accepted a paper from a girl I'd met at the first Gracie show with Gracie's dog Weenie and her own dog, Louis, who was still in Indonesia. Gracie also made a point to grab a pride flag out of the audience to drape around her piano. 

During the encore, she ended the night with "For Real This Time" which everyone sang at the top of their lungs with the knowledge that this special, sacred bubble was going to pop in seconds. Everyone knew to take it in exactly for what it was worth, and this final song held quite a bit of weight both nights as everyone soaked it all in one final time. 

I returned for Night 2 where I wasn't able to meet up with any of my friends, so I hung out in the back, right behind the sound booth. This was a totally different perspective on the show, clustered with various members of Gracie's team as well as people from the label and the wider industry. Gracie's dad, JJ Abrams, even walked past me at one point, tapping my shoulder to let me know he wanted past. This spot made it harder to lock into the all encompassing magic of the night, and there were a few more bumps in the road with Night 2. Right as "Camden" started, Gracie stopped singing and quickly signaled for the lights to be brought up as she noticed fans at the front in distress. 

A girl had fainted, and people were frantically pointing hoping to get help. Gracie immediately jumped off the stage to get to her at the barricade as she beckoned for security to come help. Clearly rattled herself, she tried to talk the audience through what was happening as she requested her team bring out water to pass out through the crowd. She helped pass out bottles as the show stayed paused to give time to others who started feeling faint in the pit. She was adamant about waiting until everyone was good while asking fans to take care of themselves and those around them in the stuffy room. 

When she restarted the song, she asked fans to let her know again if the show needed stopped. Right before "Long Sleeves," it happened again. A girl was escorted out of the building in a wheelchair with a friend trailing behind. Gracie shared that this had never happened at one of her shows, but she had fainted at a concert as a fan before. She talked about how disorienting and embarrassing it was as she tried to provide comfort to those fans who were struggling. She got more water distributed through the crowd, though she cautioned fans against throwing water around as someone got hit by a bottle in the head. Before continuing, she led the crowd through a few careful steps backwards in an attempt to take some of the pressure and heat off those at the front. After the level of crowding I experienced at the Fletcher show, I'd specifically avoided the crowded GA section, and I felt for everyone stuck in there. 

She remained visibly shaken through the next couple songs, repeatedly remarking that she just hoped the girls that had to leave were okay. She didn't return to her regular demeanor till someone in the booth talked into her in-ears to assure her that they were okay. These incidents cast a very different tone on Night 2, unfortunately, but it showed just how genuinely caring Gracie is towards her fans. It was the longest I'd ever witnessed anyone pause a show. Normally, artists only wait long enough to get security to the injured person, but Gracie held it much longer, making sure to check in with everyone else to try to prevent a repeat accident. She made it clear she would give everyone as long as they needed, regardless of what anyone behind the scenes might have wanted. 

Gracie put on a fantastic show both nights and continued to remind me that she has a unique ability to foster an intense and unmatched level of connection through her live shows. They are a participatory experience with each person playing a role in creating such a comfortable and safe emotional environment. I'd questioned at the start of Night 1 if I'd want to go back for Night 2 after having already been to another show that week, but by the end, I was struck with the same feeling as last October–the sense that I could watch that show every night for the rest of my life and never get bored of it. 

Also, the vlog has gotten tons of love, which I'm so grateful for. So if you've read all this but want to see it for yourself, you can watch the vlog on my YouTube channel as well. 

More on Gracie Abrams

Gracie Abrams at the El Rey Vlog

Gracie Abrams at the Roxy Vlog

Gracie Abrams "The Bottom" Video Review

"Alright" Song Review 

Ranking Every Gracie Abrams Song

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