Rina Sawayama @ 170 Russell

Fun start to live music in the new year with a powerhouse gig by a Japanese-British pop star, who by all rights should be the next Lady Gaga.

Rina Sawayama has the arena-sized voice, songs, confidence and moves; watching her strut her stuff on the small intimate stage of 170 Russell, I kept thinking that she should really be in the ranks of Katy Perry or Pink, playing big shows with eye-popping, cutting-edge visuals, backup dancers and crazy costume changes. It remains to be seen if she can reach this level of popularity in today’s fragmented music scene, but I’ll also be happy to keep enjoying her live shows on the smaller scale.

I found myself in the youngest concert crowd I’ve been in for a very long time; looking around the venue I couldn’t spot anybody who looked over the age of thirty. I also can’t remember ever seeing a DJ as a warm-up act. Memphis LK kept the audience pumped up with beats and bangers; during the break there were energetic singalongs to Kelly Clarkson’s Since U Been Gone and Robyn’s Dancing On My Own. I decided to stick safely by the stairs at the back, where the view was unobstructed and sweaty moshing was unlikely to happen.

I’ve still yet to listen to Hold the Girl, Rina’s latest album released last year, but on the evidence of the new songs she remains an irresistible genre-hopping chameleon, mixing everything from the heavy industrial clatter of Nine Inch Nails to country to 00’s pop and R&B. These magpie tendencies made for an entertaining and varied pop show, accompanied by dramatic lighting and a fabulous Eurovision-style wind machine. There were sadly no backup dancers, but Rina’s two-piece band generated plenty of energy; the blistering solos from the female drummer in particular got a huge cheer from the crowd. It’s clear that while Rina’s following in Melbourne might be relatively small, their enthusiasm is off the charts.

The concert wasn’t too heavy on banter, but at one point Rina paused to talk at length about the new album, which was very much a therapeutic record, the result of a recent quarter-life crisis and the recent global events. On a lighter note, she expressed her disbelief that it should be summer Down Under (I can relate – I’ve now lived in Australia for twenty-seven years and I still can’t wrap my head around January as a summer month).

As much as I enjoyed the new songs, including the touching country-tinged Send My Love To John, inspired by a friend who experienced homophobia from his mother, the highlights for me were predictably the hits from Rina’s debut record, the hook-laden Comme des Garçons, XS and the exhilarating pop/nu-metal hybrid STFU! After the concert, there was more impromptu karaoke from the satisfied crowd, as Shania Twain’s Man, I Feel Like A Woman played over the mass exodus, adding to the feel-good, high-spirited vibes.

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