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Lil Nas X takes his horse (and other props) to an Uptown show that’s as much play as concert

Lil Nas X performs Saturday in Chicago, the second stop of his “Long Live Montero” tour. (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)

Opening the playbill handed out at the Lil Nas X concert Saturday night at the Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom, attendees were informed, “This isn’t your regular a- - show.” Truer words have never been spoken.


The Atlanta-bred rapper has never done anything conventionally since the start, so his first tour shouldn’t be expected to be any different. After the kickoff in Detroit on Sept. 6, the second stop is a double-header in Chicago (returning Sunday night) where Lil Nas X has transformed the historic Uptown ballroom into a supernova musical-theater stage.

The three-act performance lives somewhere between Shakespeare’s debauched fairy tale “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and a classic rock opera, with a dose of Madonna’s “Truth or Dare” tour thrown in, thanks to the eight talented dancers who are as sassy as they are skillful and are just begging for their own behind-the-scenes rock doc.

Since 2019, Lil Nas X — born Montero Hill — has come to define virality in the digital age. His wildly unexpected country-trap hit “Old Town Road” still owns the title as the longest-running No. 1 song ever on the Billboard chart. He’s also the only artist to come out as gay while having a No. 1 record and the only LGBTQ+ Black artist to take home an award from the notoriously conservative Country Music Association.

The epitome of an underdog success story, that journey is the crux of the “Long Live Montero” Tour. The artist explained the idea in the playbill, through a personal letter on Page One. “Hello ladies and gentlemen and nonbinaries and bottoms: Welcome to the Long Live Montero Tour. So much has led up to this moment in your life where you somehow decided you want to see a 6’2” homosexual perform on stage.”

The letter continued, “You will see me in a play about me, starring me as me, with music by me. … This play is about my journey, what I’ve been through … and my aspirations to continue on my path in life.” Through three acts — “Rebirth,” “Transformation” and “Becoming” — the audience has the unique chance to see the evolution of the artist up close and personal.

The setlist fit well into this narrative plot. In Act I, we see Lil Nas X reconciling with identity on the vulnerable ballad “Sun Goes Down,” then watching the social media metamorphosis of “Old Town Road” that inked his stardom. By Act II, a more confident character emerges behind the affirming pop punk anthem “That’s What I Want.” As the song ends, the curtain drops, superimposed with the silhouette of Lil Nas X and one of his dancers kissing.

By Act III, there is the shedding of an alter ego to reveal his true self in “Montero (Call Me By Your Name)” while he wears a giant pair of butterfly wings (a motif of the tour) to signify the complete transformation. It ends with the song that has become his new identity, “Industry Baby.”

Dancers back up Lil Nas X during his Saturday show at the Byline Bank Aragon Ballroom. (Ashlee Rezin/Sun-Times)

It’s hard to fathom that, at only 23 years old and just on his first tour, Lil Nas X already has a show that comes off like a big Vegas residency. It takes a village to raise an artist of this caliber and the rapper thanked many of them in the playbill with five full pages of credits. An additional two were devoted to the costuming from Stuart Vevers, creative director of luxury brand Coach, who supplied the looks, described as “American West romance,” Versailles splendor and “glam varsity.” All lived up to Lil Nas X’s rep as a style icon who constantly shakes up every red carpet.

Enough cannot be said about the dancers and choreography on this tour that genre-blended just as much as Lil Nas X does in his music. Gymnastic hijinks, formal ballet and twerking were combined in a display of the sheer power of the human body. Each of the eight talents got their own intro towards the end of the show, as a backing band might be acknowledged in a traditional concert. With no live band, they were the backbone Lil Nas X needed for the multi-sensory feast.

There were some technical difficulties throughout the night with cues and props (like an awkward entrance and exit of a giant metal horse during “Old Town Road”). Lil Nas X apologized for the snafus, but no one seemed to notice as the sold-out crowd was swept up in each moment of the short, one-hour set. First impressions still matter, and with his inaugural tour, Lil Nas X comes across as an icon in the making.

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