Traditionally, a Rina Sawayama show is packed with flirtatious choreography, high production value, costume changes and Rina’s vibrant show tunes. However tonight, in the stripped-back surroundings of Kings Cross’ Lafayette (in collaboration with BRITs Week Presented by Mastercard for War Child), Rina promises a rare acoustic performance to a far more intimate venue and close-knit crowd than she is used to, and it makes for a delightfully memorable evening of wisecracks, country hits and even a surprise appearance.
As she enters the stage, following on from BBC Radio 1 co-signed alt-popstar Gracey, Rina is beautifully candid about her unusually lo-fi set-up, sharing her thanks for not having to perform over complicated co-ordinated dance moves and being able to actually see and communicate with her fans (who are never short of witty remarks to launch across the room).
When it comes to the performance, this is far from a normal Rina show. We’re promised one-third of tracks off her seminal ‘SAWAYAMA’, one-third off the lauded ‘Hold The Girl’ and finally one-third of the set will solely be dedicated to country covers. Rina’s penchant for fizzing country tunes is clear as day throughout her discography, influenced by Dolly Parton and Carrie Underwood; it only makes sense that she pays homage to them tonight. She begins with the sparkling ‘Hold The Girl’, the title track from her latest record, leaning into the remedial strumming of the acoustic guitar accompaniment, before launching into coming-of-age pop number ‘Catch Me In The Air’, eventually riling the audience into a “Shut the fuck up” chant as SAWAYAMA cult-favourite ‘STFU’ plays out.
It’s a unique and sometimes stirring experience to hear Rina’s genre-spanning tracks translated into the acoustic environment. The situation cuts back on the dynamics of the music but brings Rina’s vocal capabilities to the forefront. Her stunning soprano runs appear cerebral and effortless as she breaks into Avril Lavigne’s ‘I Need You’ and later the joyous ‘You’re Still The One’ by country luminary Shania Twain, whilst her singular backing singer (donning a congruous dark brown cowboy hat) joins her in spirited harmony throughout.
The chatter between songs is elongated, light-hearted and silly. She introduces us to a larger-than-life plush kitten she dubs ‘Tacocat’ that has travelled from Japan (the aforementioned special guest), speaks candidly about discovering her own sexuality after she began to hang out with queer friends (followed by the apt ‘Chosen Family’) and finally talks about coming out to her family vicariously through a character known only as John (’Send My Love to John’). It is clear Rina genuinely wants to be in this moment, exchanging pleasantries with the audience and reigning them in when they get over-rowdy.
The subtleties of Rina’s voice are amplified in this environment, especially when it comes to the higher-pitched chorus of Dolly Parton deep-cut ‘My Tennessee Mountain Home’, translating Parton’s honeyed tones to Rina’s pop intonation and brewing a truly beautiful cover. ‘XS’ is a far cry from its nu-metal beginnings, instead losing the thumping guitar rhythms for infatuating vocal moments and crowd-participation like no other track in her discography. Ending on the high of ‘This Hell’, Rina places the cherry on top of a daring night, promising her fans that she’ll embrace the acoustic set-up in the future on a small venues tour.
Although clearly a showperson built for arenas and beyond, tonight Rina captures the crowd’s hearts and ears in the intimate setting of the Lafayette, all while raising money for a truly altruistic cause.
Words: Alisdair Grice
Photo Credit: @anclamusicphoto