Home Dua Lipa dances through the pandemic blues at her joyful show at Milwaukee’s Fiserv Forum

Released in March 2020, Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” album will forever be associated with the start of the pandemic, a joyful burst of disco-kissed dance tunes that connected the world during a time of terrifying isolation, and propelled its creator to the top of the pop world.

With any luck, Dua Lipa’s “Future Nostalgia” tour — which stopped at Fiserv Forum Wednesday, for her debut Milwaukee performance — will forever be linked to the end of the pandemic.

No, it ain’t over yet, as the masks worn by thousands in the crowd Wednesday night (although hardly by everyone, despite the city’s mandate) attested. But we appear to have just gotten through yet another horrible COVID wave, Wisconsin cases are at their lowest point since last summer, and even some health experts are speculating that the endemic phase of the virus is approaching.

Whatever the future holds, we’re in desperate need of some joy right now. And on that front, Dua Lipa delivered, with the polish and confidence you’d expect from a seasoned pop star who hadn’t been sidelined from touring for two years, and had never headlined arenas until now.

Following a kitschy, funny ‘80s aerobics video-style introduction to her dozen dancers, Dua Lipa kicked off the 90-minute set with the heart-pumping “Physical.” It proved to be a thesis statement for a show powered by upbeat energy and the star and dancers’ ceaseless exertion.

But there’s also a mental wellness factor to much of Lipa’s music that makes it so uplifting. Pre-“Future Nostalgia” breakout single “New Rules,” the night’s second song, was a blast, with Lipa and six of her dancers doing a choreographed routine with transparent umbrellas. But the song’s greatest feat live remained Lipa’s lyrical strength, the way she confidently guides listeners to break free from a toxic partner.

When the 18-song setlist veered from greatest hits, the production found ways to keep it interesting. A couple of dancers — dubbed “Fish & Grits” in that intro video — did some ridiculous moves on roller skates for “Cool,” gliding between each other’s legs, and spinning and grooving and breakdancing with effortless swag.

Lipa’s four backing musicians gave “We’re Good” a bit more dancehall bounce while a giant inflatable lobster bopped to the beat in front of a digital ocean.

And near night’s end, the dancers took a much-needed breather, and the band and four backing singers stayed in the shadows, for Lipa’s hair-whipping, hip-popping, sequin-bodysuit shimmering performance of the “Future Nostalgia” title track — proof that she doesn’t need elaborate set pieces to wow a crowd.

Nevertheless, Lipa still lacks the personable touch and sense of spontaneity that can make a pop spectacle cathartic. She clearly was laser-focused on making her marks, her minimal banter lacking specificity.

And there were some other missteps. Watching “Fish & Grits” back on their skates soullessly shill for tour sponsor Truly Hard Seltzer during a wardrobe change was a big letdown, and it was a bummer seeing the show’s sharp band disappear for three songs — “One Kiss,” “Electricity” and “Hallucinate” — forcing Lipa and company to dance around to backing tracks. (The band did return at the end of “Hallucinate,” just in time for an inspired and snappy mash-up with Daft Punk’s “Technologic”.)

And despite its good intentions and some damning lyrics about gender inequity, the preachy ballad “Boys Will Be Boys,” in concert as on “Future Nostalgia,” remains a real momentum killer — made all the worse live when it inexplicably transformed into an Afrobeat and dance club remix, complete with dancers and backing singers embarrassingly playing air clarinet.

But setbacks like these never came close to sinking the show, thanks to a setlist that rarely sagged and a pop star who never quit. And after Lipa triumphantly soared over the crowd on a movable platform for “Levitating,” she returned to terra firma, and the dawn of the “Future Nostalgia” era, to close out the concert with the album’s unstoppable lead single “Don’t Start Now,” the show climaxing with explosions of rainbow-colored dust erupting over the pit.

That song, and the “Future Nostalgia” album, may be the only thing from March 2020 we may actually be fondly nostalgic for someday. As for Dua Lipa’s lasting, pop superstar potential, Wednesday’s show made it clear that her future is bright.

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