Gig Review: Rina Sawayama at Rock City

Words: Nick Parkhouse
Photos: Natasha Shipston
Wednesday 19 October 2022
reading time: min, words

We sent Nick Parkhouse down to Rina Sawayama's first ever Nottingham gig...


Back during the 2020 “stuck in the house” period of lockdown, there were a handful of pop albums that saw many through those tricky weeks. Dua Lipa’s Future Nostalgia was an early pandemic winner, swiftly followed in April by newcomer Rina Sawayama’s debut release.

Indeed, Sawayama would likely have found itself adorned at the year’s awards ceremonies – had it actually not thrown up a curious eligibility anomaly. Despite living in the UK since the age of five, the Japanese-born artist found herself ineligible for both the Mercury Prize and the Brits, leading to an outcry and a long overdue change to eligibility criteria.

When the 32-year-old’s second album, Hold The Girl arrived in September, the star spent lunchtime on the day of the gig meeting fans and signing copies of the release at Nottingham’s Rough Trade. Now, she has headed out on the road for a massive tour, taking in venues across the UK before she heads to the US in November.


While the brilliant Sawayama screeched between genre from track to track, from nu-metal to 90s inspired R&B to something akin to a power ballad, Hold The Girl is a more balls-out pop album than its predecessor. Opening her first ever gig in the city with a suite of absolute bangers from the new release – Minor Feelings, Hold The Girl, and Catch Me In The Air – the enthusiastic crowd were fully engaged from the get-go.

While Rock City is one of the very best places to see live music, the size of the stage can sometimes limit the capacity for an artist to “put on a real show”. Considering that Sawayama specialises in well-crafted dance-pop, it would have been easy for the performance aspect of the gig to lose some power in a smaller venue – but massive credit to the singer and her team for making the most of the limitations of the venue.


Inventive lights, stage design, costume changes and choreography made the show feel “bigger” than it was, and you can only imagine how stunning her arena show – for that is surely where she is heading next – will end up looking.

The 90-minute set swerved from metal guitars to power ballads, with the crowd particularly welcoming the brilliant XS and Comme Des Garcons from her debut, and recent Charli XCX collaboration, Beg For You. A stripped back of the lovely Send My Love To John and her 2020 single Bad Friend also provided a great change of pace.

Closing with an absolutely thumping audience participation version of recent single This Hell­­ – think peak Lady Gaga meets Michael Jackson’s Beat It – the singer’s initial promise that “you’ll leave happier than you arrived” was firmly kept.

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