Photo: Prudence Upton/Supplied

Solange – Sydney Opera House, 30/1/20

The Sydney Opera House is, by all stretches of the imagination, Australia’s most iconic live music venue and one of the most instantly recognisable music venues in the world. Since 1973, the famed Concert Hall has stood as a benchmark and a goal of many artists’ careers, regardless of genre. Now, the Hall is set to close for two sure-to-be long years as it goes under refurbishment. This inevitably meant that the final performance in the historic venue, pre-temporary closure, had to be special beyond words. And, to put it simply, no one could have done it like Solange did it.

Of course, in the grand scheme of things, Solange had only been absent from the venue for a minute, having made her debut in 2018 as part of VIVID Live. But, her show on Thursday, 30th January – the first of two shows before the hall closes – was refreshingly different on almost all levels. It was the Australian premiere of her Witness! show, and it was as enigmatic and as overwhelmingly fun as one could expect.

Since the release of her magnum opus, 2016’s A Seat At The Table, Solange has been revered for her incredibly avant-garde and esoteric approach to R&B, pop and soul. Proudly Black and proudly Texan, Solange – much like her sister Beyoncé – has made sure that her performances and her presence in music generally spotlights Black talents, stories, experiences and triumphs, and her show at the Sydney Opera House was no different.

With two backup singers, one drummer, two on keys, two on strings, three on brass and string of talented dancers, Solange’s performance was larger than herself – and it felt like that’s how she wanted it. The show lasted for around 90 minutes, and large parts of that were spent spotlighting those on stage with her. Her 2019 album When I Get Home is an unrestrained love letter to her hometown of Houston, Texas. She introduced ever member of her cohort by also mentioning where they hailed from – the large majority of whom were from Texas or Louisiana.

Solange @ Sydney Opera House 2020. Photo: Supplied/ Daniel Boud.

The first portion of the show was mostly dedicated to songs from the 2019 record and the performance reflected what makes it so special – it was niche, potentially inaccessible to some but bled with passion, precision and strength. As the performance progressed through songs like ‘Down With The Clique’ and ‘Binz’, the audience looked on in awe as everyone on stage hit their marks without one mistake. Well, that’s not entirely true – as a lone dancer took to a heightened podium to deliver the best twerking the venue had ever seen, the lights went off on her. Solange, being both a professional and a Knowles (which at this point are pretty much synonymous), kept singing ‘Binz’ until she finally said, “We need to see the girl!”

She then introduced the audience to ‘Bridge-s’, which was a sprawling jazz performance that was composed and arranged by Solange herself, and it was equal parts conquering and cathartic, which in retrospect seems like what Solange has dedicated the most recent years of her career in projecting. She is concrete in her mission to give her experience as a Black southern woman the platform that it not only deserves, but also in places that mightn’t traditionally see these experiences specific to women of colour showcased in such a way – the GRAMMYs, late night television, venues built for opera etc.

Solange @ Sydney Opera House 2020. Photo: Supplied/ Daniel Boud.

And she’s as concrete in her mission to make Black members of the audience aware that this is for them, this is as much their moment as it is her own. Never more present than during her performance of ‘F.U.B.U’, Solange wandered around the stage and made strong eye contact with Black crowd members, singing to them, for them and with them. It was a beautiful and powerful thing to behold and it is impossible to comprehend what those moments must have meant to those select members of the audience.

Naturally, the crowd erupted into powerful sing-a-longs and thunderous applause upon the performance of Solange’s two defining songs, 2012’s ‘Losing You’ and 2016’s ‘Cranes In The Sky’. One a perfect pop song if there ever was, one a medicinal and curative R&B anthem that sees her acknowledge vices and address problems at their cord, both of which widely regarded as some of the best songs of the decade.

Closing her show, and the Concert Hall for the next two years, with a one-two punch of dreamy ‘Things I Imagined’ and mighty ‘Don’t Touch My Hair’, Solange’s impact on those hallowed walls will last long after the venue’s refurbishment. She delivered tradition and she delivered the future. She was vulnerably yet powerfully herself and she was devoted to sharing her spotlight with those joining her on stage. But, perhaps most impactfully, she was devoted to sharing the spotlight with those that reside within her own intersections – Black women, showcasing their resilience and their excellence. The influence and legacy of Solange has already become one of the most important ones of the past decade, and thus it’s hard to think of a better send-off for the Sydney Opera House’s Concert Hall. Let’s hope, come 2022, that the venue welcomes artists with equally as important stories to share with open arms.

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