Genesis Owusu live at the Sydney Opera House: a magnificent spectacle

The Sydney Symphony Orchestra helps elevate the Australian artist’s already electrifying live show for an epic, unforgettable night

Genesis Owusu has long had a flair for the dramatic. The Ghanaian-Australian’s 2021 debut album ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ is a wildly ambitious, conceptual record that moves between searing punk rap to heartfelt, elegiac soul across its nearly hour-long runtime. His live shows are a theatrical affair, Owusu at once spirited frontman and something akin to a congregation leader. Then there’s his prominent visual aesthetic, his bright-red martial costuming and the Goon Club dancers/hypemen that frequently accompany him.

The idea of him teaming up with the Brisbane and Sydney Symphony Orchestras for Red Bull Symphonic concerts in their respective cities, then, is not an entirely shocking one. If anything, it feels like a natural progression for an artist as unbound by convention as Owusu. All the same, within the towering Sydney Opera House concert hall this past Thursday (March 23), he and his collaborators exceed those already-lofty expectations.

As the 40-piece Sydney Symphony Orchestra lead into the first song, Owusu – draped in a regal black gown – is carried out by the Goon Club. They launch into ‘The Other Black Dog’, a feverish cut that already careens with tension, enlarged to epic proportions by the soaring strings, bold brass and other orchestral instrumentation.

Genesis Owusu Live at the Sydney Opera House
Credit: Red Bull Symphonic


Owusu recently described his first impression of the orchestral version of ‘The Other Black Dog’ – arranged, as with the rest of the set, by composer Alex Turley – as “superhero theme music”. He’s not wrong. The pulsing electronics of the synth-rock original are swapped out for striking, vigorously played strings; it wouldn’t feel out of place soundtracking one of the Hans Zimmer-scored Batman films.

The SSO aren’t Owusu’s only guests. Aside from the orchestra and his Goon Club, he’s also flanked by his Black Dog Band members Andrew Klippel, Julian Sudek and Michael Di Francesco (Touch Sensitive). A trio of backup vocalists that includes fast-rising Melbourne R&B singer KYE provides breathtaking harmonies throughout the evening, and Kirin J Callinan comes out to perform his and Owusu’s ‘Smiling With No Teeth’ collab ‘Drown’.

After the first song, Owusu requests that the audience stand up. Many stay on their feet for the remainder of the set, making it abundantly clear that while we may be in a grand concert hall, this is still a Genesis Owusu show. And the orchestra have no trouble keeping up with the frenetic energy of Owusu, who bounds across the (fairly limited) space he has onstage.

Genesis Owusu Live at the Sydney Opera House
Credit: Red Bull Symphonic

Preconceptions about classical music aside, it’s surprising just how much of an edge the more aggressive songs in the setlist gain from orchestral accompaniment: punchy 2022 single ‘Get Inspired’ and the blistering ‘Black Dogs!’ – a Death Grips-channelling, industrial-tinged belter – sound considerably more intense than their studio counterparts.

As the orchestral arrangements elevate the more fervent tracks in Owusu’s catalogue to moments of high drama, they also draw out the emotion from his more stirring songs. The biggest moment of the night comes when Owusu and co. perform sombre 2022 single ‘GTFO’. Up till this point, the audience has been relatively restrained when it comes to singing along, perhaps due to the formal environment.

That changes as ‘GTFO’ reaches its chorus: the words “Get the fuck out” have perhaps never sounded so beautiful as they are being shouted by an entire concert hall. At the conclusion of both refrains, the crowd erupts into applause as Owusu is lifted up in the air by a Goon Club member – transforming a brooding moment on record into a live moment of communal triumph.

A few songs later, Owusu and co. deliver a truly stunning rendition of ‘A Song About Fishing’, a meditation on persevering despite the monotony of depression. Assisted by plaintive strings and a swaying sea of phone flashlights, Owusu, his bandmates and the orchestra manage a particularly special feat: making a moment in the cavernous Opera House concert hall feel deeply intimate.


Genesis Owusu Live at the Sydney Opera House
Credit: Red Bull Symphonic

Ending with his groove-heavy, Free Nationals-produced 2019 single ‘Good Times’, Owusu and co. exemplify what has been an undercurrent throughout the show: as bold, intense and emotive as it’s been at various points, it’s always felt fun. At one point of levity between songs, Owusu borrows the conductor’s baton, raising it to lift cheers out of the audience then bringing it down to get us back to pianissimo.

Given the opportunity to perform with a symphony orchestra, many artists might adapt their approach to better suit the accompaniment. But the most interesting thing about Genesis Owusu’s performance is how naturally the orchestra fits in with his own acclaimed live show. Indeed, one gets the sense that this is the kind of spectacular, large-scale event Owusu sees his sets moving towards. All combined, with nearly 50 performers onstage, it feels less like the pairing of two discrete musical worlds, and more like a coherent vision coming to life – all led by one of Australia’s most imaginative contemporary artists.

Genesis Owusu played:

‘The Other Black Dog’
‘Waitin On Ya’
‘Gold Chains’
‘Black Dogs!’
‘Get Inspired’
‘Don’t Need You’
‘Wit Da Team’
‘A Song About Fishing’
‘No Looking Back’
‘Good Times’


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