Rina Sawayama live in October 2022
Rina Sawayama, October 2022 | Credit: Lloyd Bishop/NBC via Getty Images

Rina Sawayama Review – No Genre Left Unturned at Artist’s Queer Rodeo in Sydney

Rina Sawayama performed at UNSW Roundhouse, Sydney, on Thursday, 12th January. David James Young reviews.

How does one measure the level of anticipation for Rina Sawayama’s debut show in Sydney? How about literally: this may be the longest queue ever seen out the front of the UNSW Roundhouse, snaking back kilometres all the way to the uni’s science theatre. It might be a curious sight for the unconverted, but anyone who has followed Sawayama’s rise will know this level of dedication is par for the course.

Rina Sawayama – ‘This Hell’

Thousands of people standing in line is nothing compared to thousands of people shrieking as the lights dim and Sawayama launches into the opening suite of ‘Minor Feelings’ and ‘Hold the Girl’. Backed by Emily Rosenfield on guitar and Simone Odaranile on drums, Sawayama’s wind-swept presence is instantly magnetic. Call her a rock-star, call her a pop-star – whatever the case, she’s a supernova.

If Sawayama’s energetic stage explorations don’t excite you, then her adventures through the genre spectrum will. Very few artists can match Sawayama’s ability to come up trumps on such a wide range of musical styles. She takes us through the pop-rock of ‘Catch Me In The Air’, the snarling nu-metal of ‘STFU!’ and the tender acoustic balladry of ‘Send My Love To John’. One incites bunny-hop moshing; one incites primal screams and head-banging; and one gets phone torches raised and waving. When Sawayama describes her live show as a “journey”, it’s about as big an undersell as you can get.

Said journey ultimately becomes a disco inferno, lighting up with the final run of songs: ‘Comme des Garçons’, ‘XS’ and an encore of the ABBA-indebted ‘This Hell’. Throughout, Odaranile enforces the groove with metronomic precision and showband flair while Rosenfield breathlessly multitasks, transitioning between guitar licks and synth stabs that are accentuated by Sawayama’s sharp vocal runs.

Rina Sawayama – ‘STFU!’

If there’s a phrase to sum up Sawayama’s Hold The Girl live experience, it’s “mutually therapeutic”. The singer-songwriter speaks openly of the work she did on herself while making her latest LP and shares her hopes that the album provided inspiration for her listeners to do the same. The adulation and dedication shown by her Sydney fans suggests many people feel less alone on account of Sawayama’s music.

Further Reading

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