Gig Review by Kamara Bennett

Inclement weather and the lengthy (really, really lengthy) queue didn’t deter the Ritabots, Azaleans and the remaining yet-to-be-affiliated concertgoers from attending the Birmingham date of Rita Ora’s first headlining tour: Radioactive.

Rita Ora

Accompanied by two dancers instead of a hype man, Australian Native Iggy Azalea jumped straight into performance mode and, with no introduction, opened her set with the hard-hitting ‘My World’, which included plenty of bounce-in-unison action for the audience to get stuck into.

Iggy spent the subsequent 15 minutes or so spitting over beats laced with synths and bass, performing tracks ‘Backseat’, ‘Million Dollar Misfit’ and ‘Murda Bizness’. After getting into the sixth track ‘Gold Dust’, Iggy asked the audience “Who knows how to twerk?” – not many judging by the response – and orchestrated a mini twerk battle among her dancers, keeping the onstage energy to an optimum level.

I’m not sure how much the Birmingham crowd knew about the support act, but Iggy handily gave us an insight into her come-up in ‘Work’, where she raps “no money, no family. 16, in the middle of Miami”, referring to her move from Australia to America to pursue a music career.

Unfortunately, the spoken parts of Iggy Azalea’s performance had a tendency to get lost in the crowd due to the low volume and, in other words, I didn’t hear a word of what she was saying. Nonetheless, Iggy’s Azaleans lapped it all up, and after insisting that everyone gets “extra crazy” and after leaving the crowd suitably hyped with ‘Beat Down’, it’s safe to say that Iggy’s eight-track set warmed the stalls ready for the main act.

The faux warning sounds and the glowing trefoil symbol set the scene perfectly for the headliner’s opening track: Radioactive. Enclosed in a transparent box labelled ‘quarantine’ and surrounded by blinding strobe lights (possibly a little too powerful for the 3000-capacity venue!), Rita Ora delivered the entire single, with the first couple of bars accompanied by the screams and camera flashes of a clearly excited crowd.

No longer quarantined or restricted by the bottom half of her Emilio Pucci-crafted costume, Rita and her band progressed seamlessly into ‘Facemelt’, another crowd-pleaser, where she gets into a choreographic sequence with the aid of her camouflage-clad dancers, who also happen to double as backing singers (or the other way around – not too sure!).

Promising to save the “emotional sh–” for later, Rita soon launches into the song that led to her first taste of commercial success: ‘Hot Right Now’ – even taking the time to detail her favourite part of the track, which happens to be the “let me see the club get hotter, hotter” bit…just in case you were wondering.

Improving upon the typical artist-to-audience spiel often delivered by performers worldwide, Rita Ora knows how to make her audience feel extra special, complimenting the crowd and giving it the ol’ “you can do better than that – you’re from Birmingham!!” She even told us that this is the biggest venue that she’s headlined so far and that she used to visit the O2 Academy Birmingham to watch her idols perform (well, who would’ve thought…).

Regardless of whether this was true to fact or not, Rita Ora is obviously a talented and engaging performer; she knows her stuff and it shows. However, perhaps due to my restricted view of the stage, the costumes changes and stage set-ups, where Ora took us on a journey from a nuclear power plant to what she coined as her “garden of love” threw me off. There was no obvious storyline, but, in a weird way, it worked. In fact, I’ve never seen the O2 Academy stage look so, well, pretty (there was confetti and all sorts!). It’s clear that Ora wanted to map the aesthetic and theatrics of a big stadium production, which I’m sure she has become accustomed to, onto the smaller stage.

Rita Ora performed all of the tracks on her debut album Ora and a couple of extras, with her vocals remaining faultless throughout. Before letting the crowd know that there’ll be a special birthday treat for a lucky person and after changing into something “a little more comfortable”, Rita performed an acoustic rendition of OutKast’s ‘Hey Ya’, seated cosily alongside her guitarists and dancers.

Once complete, Rita launched into prose about how lonely she is and how she really needed a companion on stage. Choosing birthday girl Becky to join her during ‘Hello, Hi, Goodbye’, Rita assured the audience that she’d love to invite us all on stage, but the stage would break if she did. And she’s right – the show was completely sold out.

Rita, requesting for the house lights to be turned on, seemed genuinely surprised by the density of the crowd, commenting on how full the room was. While the crowd was undeniably female dominated, the ages within the audience spanned across a broad spectrum, qualified by a comment from a lady walking into the venue, which was something along the lines of “Oh, so we’re not the oldest. WOO! *fist pump*”

Not before a quick plug of Radioactive’s release date (10/02/2013) and after swapping her police hat and drumsticks for a beanie, Rita delivered what I’m going to call ‘How We Do (Party)’ 101, educating her audience on the origin of the light-hearted, catchy track. This was suitably intertwined with her ode to Notorious BIG, where she bopped around to ‘Mo Money Mo Problems’ and ‘Hypnotise’ – all against a photo backdrop of man himself.

Following a final costume change, Rita performed the track that everyone was waiting for: R.I.P.

I’ve never heard Rita’s debut ‘Ora’ in its entirety and I never thought I’d want to. But after tonight, I’m definitely going to give the album a good listen.

Track list: Radioactive, Facemelt, Love and War, Hot Right Now, Been Lying, Fair, Shine Ya Light, Roc the Life, Meet Ya, Hey Ya!, Hello, Hi, Goodbye, Uneasy, Fall in, Love, How We Do (Party), R.I.P.

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