McAlpine points her mic to the crowd on stage, letting the audience belt her own song. Photo courtesy of Caroline Reynolds

Coming of age films often go full circle. This was the case for indie pop singer-songwriter Lizzy McAlpine’s “The End of the Movie” tour, with character arcs and denouements abound.

McAlpine returned to perform in Chicago for the third time in little more than a year. Last February, she opened for British singer-songwriter Dodie at the Riviera Theater, the same venue of her Chicago stop for this tour. In September, she performed at the Metro – a much smaller location  – for her “Five Seconds Flattour. Back in the same place, a year later and at a supremely different point in her career. Full circle.

McAlpine treated the audience to a night of sentimental love songs – the messiness of relationships included. But before she pressed play on her cinematic setlist, her opener, indie musician Olivia Barton, worked through a seven-song set.

Barton, in her white tank top and denim overalls, is most well-known for the song “if i were a fish,” which she co-wrote in 20 minutes with her partner and musician Corinne Savage, stage name corook. She performed it live to a crowd for the first time with a more melancholic slowed-down tone and announced that it had just been released for streaming the same day.

Barton's set was intimate and emotional. Many of her songs tackle topics of depression, anxiety and insecurity which she accompanied with personal life stories. Before she performed “I Don’t Sing My Songs,” she talked about a time when she worked three jobs but wished to be a successful songwriter performing to an audience.

“It’s so surreal to be here right now,” Barton said, teary eyed.

Her warmth is endearing. During some songs, she’d mess up lyrics or make a mistake on the guitar, but would laugh it off with a grin as the crowd cheered on. She hand wrote her setlist on a paper plate and gave it to an audience member after the concert. Barton also announced she’d be hanging out by the merch table to chat with anyone who stopped by.

For her final song, Barton sang “I Love You Just For Trying.” The room came to life with a constellation of lights as the audience swayed their phones in the air. At the bridge, she told the audience to close their eyes and sing the song’s title to themselves repeatedly. The quiet whispers of personal affirmations ended her set on an uplifting note.  

After Olivia Barton left the stage, the concert crew removed the black fabric covering McAlpine’s set to reveal a homey display: a living room with a couch, Turkish carpets, a standalone jacket rack and reading lamps all around. The stage matched McAlpine’s often Broadway-esque music – it looked like the theater set of a lived-in room. Between songs, she would move around the set to different places – shifting behind the electric piano or hopping onto the couch to play guitar – and turn on a lamp before she started to sing. The whole experience felt like a mix between watching an intimate off-Broadway play and watching your best friend sing songs to you at home.

McAlpine plays a song on her guitar from her couch on stage. Photo courtesy of Caroline Reynolds

Eleven songs on McAlpine’s setlist were the same – and in the same order – as those in her fall 2022 tour. She also played three unreleased songs, one of which had already been in her last tour. I wondered why McAlpine went on tour again this time after she’d seemingly just ended her fall tour when not much new music has been released since then. “The End of the Movie” tour is likely riding on the momentum of her increasing fame.

McAlpine had a guitar change between almost every song for each guitar’s different tuning and performed with an instrument almost the entire time. Every moment felt intimate. She would often sing looking up at the light or with her eyes closed, as if savoring every lyric.

The crowd was full of the kindest people I’ve ever watched a concert with, which I think is an ode to the mellow and lovestruck music McAlpine writes. Whenever someone lightly bumped my shoulder, they’d profusely apologize. My friend dropped her phone at one point, and the people surrounding us made a circle around her so she had the space to pick it up. It also seemed as if everyone made friends with those around them – I overhead lots of people introducing themselves and talking about the music festivals they planned to go to over summer.

McAlpine performed “ceilings” as her ninth song. In her Genius interview, she said the song was inspired by a rainy night out with her ex in London and that, “There’s something so magical about rain.” Every single audience member joined McAlpine in her quest for catharsis, shouting the lyrics amidst the sound of pouring rain.

They didn’t just know the lyrics to “ceilings.” It seemed like everyone knew every single lyric to every song, which worked to a bit of McAlpine’s detriment: Her voice was sometimes drowned out by the crowd’s belting, making it difficult to hear the nuances in her tone. Still, she marveled at all the support she received in another full-circle moment before she performed “In What World,” a song she had released two years ago that same day.

“When I was 12 years old I started writing songs in my basement on my electric piano with my notebook writing about boys and … that’s it. And now I’m doing it in front of all you guys and you actually wanted to be here and see me do that so that’s crazy,” McAlpine said, nostalgically sitting at an electric piano holding up a notebook.

During the song, the audience held up colored paper hearts with her lyrics inscribed on them to their phone flashlights, creating yet another constellation. But this time, it was a technicolor rainbow.

The concert ended with the upbeat “orange show speedway” – side note: McAlpine said she’d skip the classic concert encore where the artist pretends to leave stage only to “surprisingly” return for three more songs, and I was really grateful for that. “orange show speedway” is arguably McAlpine’s most cheerful song and the reason she chose to end her tour with it: "It's really fun," McAlpine told People. "It's the closer of my set. So it's so much fun to see people dance to it."

The lights of the Riviera returned after McAlpine waved goodbye and walked off stage, much like how a movie theater signals to guests that the show is over. New friends said their “nice to meet yous” and I went home with my heart full.

Editor’s note: Jao did not go home straight after the concert. She went to Cane’s to enjoy a three finger combo.