An ambitious venture, Owusu’s collaboration with the 40-piece Sydney Symphony Orchestra proved to be a fruitful outing
The culmination of two epic states makes for an unforgettable night. In this case the aforementioned states are that of the performer Genesis Owusu and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra. Coupled with the location, that being the Concert Hall of the Sydney Opera House, the symbiosis created an evening where music, art and fashion danced together.
Entering the iconic venue shrouded in a black cape like gown on the shoulders of his dancers, Owusu’s jagged movements replicate the sound on The Other Black Dog, heightened by the swelling orchestral arrangement. Between the strings, percussion, brass and wind, you’re treated to a sensory feast for the ears. The way Owusu and his dance troupe, affectionately named ‘goons’, engage with the new orchestral setting brings another unique quality to the set. Their pulsating movements filled the stage and lured the audiences gaze. All of this paired with a moody lighting plan that matched the aesthetic of what was presented on stage, lights flashing red and white with every beat of the drum, created a scintillating opening number. At one point a punter in the front row was so overcome with feeling that he stood up, dancing directly in front of Owusu, who begins to interact with him, pushing the words towards him. Following the songs conclusion, the musician spoke to the dancing fan, and then instructed the rest of the hall to stand. At this point introducing himself, the members of The Black Dog band, Julian Sudek on drums, Andrew Klippel on keys and Touch Sensitive on the bass and synth, as well as the Sydney Symphony Orchestra.
Continuing with WUTD, this new arrangement is the perfect compliment to what we know from this song. Lush, spring like, dreamy strings introduce the song, before wind and bells start to trickle in to drive the dynamic cut. Owusu brought out some of his signature moves throughout this track, bringing a jazz club aura and presence to the venue that helped create an unrivalled intimacy within the almost six thousand seater hall. Glimmering rays of light filled the space, almost like sun rays that matched the audiences beaming presence. A recurring delight throughout the set was the start and finish of each track, the way that the orchestra brought that level of impact to those moments made you grasp and fully absorb each song. This was particularly present in Gold Chains, with Owusu opening the composition with a spoken word element that was soundtracked by strings. The backing vocalists, led by rising artist KYE, brought another layer to the song, with their hushed, almost whisper-like harmonies. The horns during this track really shone, the phrasing along with the symphony work really well together. The strings offer a leading base to the horns that punctuate each word within the chorus. It was definitely one of the highlights of the night.
Black Dogs! was set up by Owusu asking the audience to repeat his phrases, “say ooh” and “yah”. The combination of the orchestra, back up singers and dancers created an other worldly quality within the performance. The drama was there, with the orchestra creating a perfect foundation for the frantic energy brought by all the elements combined. Another highlight of the night was during Get Inspired. The audience turned into a choir, both singing along and adding the echo in between what was said. At one point, they took on the role of percussionist, working with the beat by adding a thunderous clap that helped to highlight what was unfurling on stage. This is always a favourite when performed live, and in this current setting it reached new heights. The crowd chanting continued in GTFO, suiting the stage perfectly, or rather the orchestra perfectly, especially with the opening melody of a classic-esque piece. If you’ve been to one of Owusu’s live shows over the past eight months, you’ll know of the enigmatic quality of GTFO live. The musician will usually lean back, being held by his dancers, appearing as if he’s levitating. This time, at first, Owusu found comfort in the arms of his adoring audience, leaning back into the front few rows as they held him suspended mid air, creating a beautiful image. He was also elevated by his dancers later on in the song, creating another dramatic vignette with the orchestra as a backdrop in both the visual and sonic aspect. The track ended with a rapturous applause. This carried through to another popular track Don’t Need You, with the crowd acting as another member of the band, Owusu’s own choir. His undeniable stage presence oozed out on stage, his moves driving the impact of the song even more. It genuinely looks like Owusu is so in the moment, living his dream and seeping in the energy within the hall. It’s beautiful to see, especially on this grand scale.
A favourite moment was when Owusu asked to use the conductors baton to control the audience’s cheering levels. It was so beautiful to see them interact and bring that connection to the forefront. Drown came next with Owusu bringing Kirin J Callinan on stage to perform, with the melody having everyone ready to cut loose. And dance they did. Before the next track someone yelled “we love you Genesis” to which he replied “I love you too.” It was that very essence you felt in the room, mutual love and an admiration of music, rather a celebration of it. It was a dynamic show, that was unlike anything you had seen before. The showmanship of Owusu, combined with the orchestra the power of the audience was something incredible to behold. The crowd brought it again, by singing along during Wit’ da Team. An overriding memory from the evening is the audience passionately singing along, their acoustics heightened because of the space itself.
Owusu brought up a Facebook memory that popped up on his timeline, citing it as being the 10 year anniversary of his first live performance. He discussed the community built over the years, and all that has been achieved tonight. He thanks the orchestra and composer Alex Turley for the beautiful string arrangements, with one following in A Song About Fishing. This was a perfect example of how the orchestra adapted the track to make it sound almost like a hymn, with many songs throughout the night having that element. This was furthered when audience members took out their phones and lit up the room, creating a cascading carpet of stars. Owusu even mentioned mid song, “the phone lights look beautiful.” At this point it had primarily been strings, before the percussion came in with a spirited jolt. The ethereal nature of the performance was furthered by a compelling lighting design, creating a cohesion across the whole production.
No Looking Back had Owusu’s back up singer taking centre stage. Bringing some transcendent chords to the night, the brass came into play and made it another song you could rock along to. People were swaying from side to side and appreciating the moment. The trumpet solo gets a shout out too, as many audience members whooped and appeared to enjoy its brassy flow. Owusu thanked KYE who was on lead backing vocals and again, lauded over the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and The Black Dog Band. Truly, they weaved together a pretty stellar show, creating light and shade throughout to produce a dynamic and scintillating sonic journey. He informed the audience he had one more song and that he’s “not doing the fake encore shit,” which was received well by the audience laughing along to the mention of this live music trope. Ending the night with Good Times, the musician brought his inimitable moves in a party like feel, celebrating with a dancing audience. The energy was palpable, people clapping along, everyone smiling, singing along holding the promise of more good times to come.
An ambitious venture, Owusu’s collaboration with the 40-piece Sydney Symphony Orchestra proved to be a fruitful outing. The fusion of the symphony’s classical element with the musicians punk-meets-rap musical output resulted in a rich marriage of textural sounds that emitted power and drama. There was a natural unity between both genres that felt like a natural and organic progression for an artist of Owusu’s stature. Yes, to date he’s only released one full-length album, 2021’s Smiling With No Teeth. But that body of work alone has earned him four ARIA Awards, the Australian Music Prize, three AIR Awards and an APRA Award to name a few, and he took out the coveted Vanda & Young Global Songwriting Competition. Owusu continues to push the boundaries with each release and each live venture, and his partnership with Red Bull Symphonic sets the tone for a new era from the lauded musician.