Rina Sawayama live in Manchester: a jubilant, fun-filled spectacle

November 9, Albert Hall: The British-Japanese pop star's long-awaited live return makes for a dazzling and moving experience

Rina Sawayama‘s rescheduled show at Manchester’s Albert Hall has been, to say the least, long-awaited. Tonight (November 9) is just the second date of Sawayama’s first tour in two years, giving fans their first opportunity to witness the artist’s 2020 debut album ‘SAWAYAMA’ in the live arena. The genre-defying smash, which flitted from nu-metal to ‘00s R&B and country to euphoric pop, boasted seismic musical shifts (the type artists might have over an entire career, not a record) and is only now being given the live outing it deserves.

The show opens faithfully to the album with the lavish ‘Dynasty’, a grandiose cut that was made to be played in venues with acoustics like the Albert Hall’s; the space soon has the feel of a sweaty underground rock venue as the ferocious nu-metal flourishes of ‘STFU!’ burst into life. The electro-house bounce of the buoyant ‘Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)’ transforms the venue once more to resemble a bubbling club environment – a testament to the varied nature of that eponymous record she’s touring.

Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama performs at Manchester’s Albert Hall, 9/11/2021 (Picture: Alice Backham /Press)

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Sawayama is joined by a slick two-piece band and two dancers on a production set that features cascading steps and mirrored panels. The meticulous choreography and altered arrangements of her songs result in a dazzling, all-encompassing pop assault on the senses, the sort which usually takes place on far larger stages than these; even bigger venues are already slated for this tour. There’s a set of glossy routines – complete with windblown hair courtesy of an electric fan that’s positioned at the front of the stage – vocal gymnastics, buckets of charisma and a self-knowing, playful streak. ‘Snakeskin’ is prefixed by a brief outing of the Succession theme tune, while there are numerous dance breaks, costume changes and roaring guitar solos throughout.

The stage banter is as entertaining and endearing as she is: “Have you ever misbehaved? Have you ever been naughty?” she teases the crowd before ‘Paradisin’’. “I have… and I had a fucking good time.” She soon whips out a plastic saxophone and mimes playing it during one extravagant solo, before she and her dancers collapse on the floor at the end of another exuberant number, which chimes with the wait for this tour: “For the whole of 2020 I was basically in this position – horizontal”.

Rina Sawayama
Rina Sawayama performs at Manchester’s Albert Hall, 9/11/2021 (Picture: Alice Backham /Press)

The poignant ballad ‘Chosen Family’, a tribute to the LGBTQ+ family Sawayama considers part of her own, is stripped-back as Sawayama sits on the stage’s steps with her band to perform an emotional acoustic rendition. It’s a stunning moment: one that places the full focus on Sawayama’s earnest lyrics and vocals. Once the song ends, the audience – a community years in the making – cheers for one full minute. It’s goosebumps all-around, and a sweet nod to the fans who got her to this position and the leaps she’s about to make.

Rina Sawayama played:

‘Dynasty’
‘STFU!’
‘Comme Des Garçons (Like The Boys)’
‘Akasaka Sad’
‘Snakeskin’
‘Cyber Stockholm Syndrome’
‘Paradisin’’
‘Love Me 4 Me’
‘Bad Friend’
‘Fuck This World’
‘Who’s Gonna Save U Now?’
‘Tokyo Love Hotel’
‘Chosen Family’
‘Cherry’
‘XS’
‘LUCID’
‘Free Woman’

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