A slight patter of rain onto the curvatures of the Sydney Opera House can be heard under the rehearsing and sharpening of instruments by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, as every seat of the Concert Hall begins to fill over the 10-minute countdown till showtime. The lead-up to the show fills you with anticipation and tension, as you sit and wait to embark on the unknowing spiritual journey that is the Red Bull Symphonic with Ghanaian-Australian powerhouse, Genesis Owusu.
Owusu’s 2021 debut album ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ has led him to unmatched heights and unbelievably acclaimed success. Two years on, he still works to elevate his craft, aiming to create a masterful depiction of his music in a live performance setting. Translating the soundscapes, tenacity and ferocious fire that exists within his music isn’t an easy feat, however, Owusu manages to seamlessly refresh and revitalise his performance, and by doing so, creating an incredibly high standard for live gigs.
With the accompaniment of the 40-piece Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the tone for the rest of the night is set from the first sight of Owusu, as he is carried onstage by his Goon Squad, draped in a black cloth, to perform his heavy-hitting track ‘The Other Black Dog’. The driving percussion and horn arrangements, paired with his onstage presence throughout, make for pleasurable theatrics, as if you’ve been transported into the confines of Dracula’s lair, or come face to face with the final boss in a game. However, Owusu has no intentions of harm, as he trails his way across the stage to sing, yell, jump, and sway with the audience. The Black Dog Band, and backing vocalists, which include Naarm-based artist KYE, and the iconic guest spot of Kirin J Callinan, are just as integral to the night, keeping the pace and solidifying an already well-structured, breathtaking performance.
Throughout the night, the light displays shift from red, to pink, to yellow, and white, signifying a switch in mood and pace, as Owusu performs tracks like ‘WUTD’, ‘Waitin’ On Ya’, and ‘Gold Chains’. Clad in a matching red leather jacket and pants, emphasised by shoulder pads and cropped detailing, we’re truly taken into this superhero/supervillain realm, as Owusu dances and swings to the funkier slow jams, before raising his arms in the air or punching downwards on the more powerful instrumental-driven tracks. The crowd soon becomes completely enamoured with Owusu, as we’re hit back to back with his 2022 singles, ‘Get Inspired’ and ‘GTFO’. Joined by the Goon Squad on ‘Get Inspired’ for belligerent, and carefree onstage antics, the crowd meets their energy, dancing and screaming the song word-for-word. It’s not until we ease into ‘GTFO’ that the energy of the room transcends the walls of the Concert Hall. Every crevice of the space is filled with the chanting of the words “Get the fuck out” during the chorus, overpowering Owusu’s vocals and the almost-faint playing of the orchestra. It was one of the most engaging and thrilling moments of the night, feeling communal, warm, and wonderfully sacred. At the song’s peak, Owusu is carried into the air and pivoted towards the crowd, as front-row concertgoers can be seen clutching onto him like he was our own divine saviour. Nothing but the orchestra and an ongoing round of applause can be heard, as we all feel like we’ve encountered a raw and emotionally-riveting moment in the night’s festivities.
Soon after, we’re shifted back into place with thumpers like ‘Don’t Need You’, ‘Drown’, and ‘Wit Da Team’, before phone flashlights light up the room during Owusu’s stirring tracks ‘A Song About Fishing’ and ‘No Looking Back’. At one point, Owusu borrows the conductor’s baton, to have some harmless fun with the concertgoers. His ability to control, command and dictate the mood of the audience is unmatchable, and only further proves the power only a performer like Genesis Owusu, can have on his audience. Closing out the night with his 2019 single, ‘Good Times’, the crowd jostles around to savour the last few moments of Owusu onstage, as he guarantees that there is “no fake encore bullshit” at play. He wraps up the night thanking the crowd, and the company of over 40 performers that brought a clear vision to life, applause once again filling the room until the very final moments.
The post-show reminiscing identifies a bittersweet feeling. You’re left feeling empowered by an hour of boundary-pushing live performance, already nostalgic over its happenings, but also, just as grateful to have witnessed such an alluring pairing. Genesis Owusu and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra are a match made in fairytales, comic books, video games, and fortunately, in reality also. Withstanding the formalities of a venue like the Sydney Opera House, above all, this is Genesis Owusu’s world, and we’re just living in it.
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