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(Photo by Jordan Munns)

Enmore Theatre, March 9

The earth didn’t move for us. And for once this was a very good thing indeed, as Genesis Owusu restarted a show abruptly curtailed 6 days earlier when the floor beneath a section of the audience gave way.

The ground shook though, especially as the portentous preamble - which saw a cross-legged Owusu (Canberran, Kofi Owusu-Ansah), dressed in white, bathed in red halo light, intoning - gave way to the thrilling shirtfronting of The Other Black Dog, a song which dives into personal darkness but throbs with existential energy.

A song which in effect set up the night’s key parts. Here, Owusu danced and swung, jacked and jerked across the stage, both hyperactive and concentrating focus. He’s got a dancer’s litheness and a sportsman’s physicality, seemingly reacting to the waves of excitement rolling across the floor and balcony, but really directing it with each shoulder twitch and knee bend.

Charisma is a term easy to bandy about and almost impossible to define, but you know it when you see it. And we saw it

There, the band (bass/synth, drums, two guitarists, keyboards, two backing vocalists) propelled from the dark, their sounds compelling even as they remained hidden. They could command a jagged aggro-funk in Black Dogs! – less a song than a kick to the cods – in the manner of Washington punks, Black Flag, meeting New York rockers, Living Colour, just as easily as they refashioned various forms of ‘80s R&B and second wave hip hop into dirty mind mode (Waitin’ On Ya), or lovers’ groove (No Looking Back).

That’s when not flipping on some mock folk-meets-soul, a full-on pop rave-up, incongruous but still weirdly believable yacht rock, and to close out the night, a synth-punk reimagining of The Sex Pistols’ Anarchy In The UK.

(Kirin J Callinan and Genesis Owusu. Photo by Jordan Munns.)

And over there, and here, and often moving alongside Owusu, guitarist Kirin J Callinan offered the second, more insidious presence, regularly disturbing the surface of what might otherwise be regulation songs.

He did it by bringing sounds that perched between electric guitar and synthesiser, siren and razor blade – and for a few minutes, the unlikely concept of Bowie sidemen Carlos Alomar and Earl Slick being raucously remixed by Public Enemy’s Hank Shocklee – with a showman’s flair that complemented, but didn’t outshine the main man.

But really, nothing was going to outshine Owusu.

In the past week he’s won the prestigious Australian Music Prize for his first album, watched a floor collapse two songs into a show without losing his cool, added the Vanda & Young songwriting competition first prize for Gold Chains (a favourite song of a certain private citizen, Barack Obama), and is about to pack for a major overseas tour.

Yeah, he’s got our attention.

A version of this review was first published in The Sydney Morning Herald.


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