Just as Rina Sawayama’s musical career skyrocketed, the world shut down. Releasing her debut album Sawayama in April 2020, the musician’s chaotically angsty, pop-centric vision instantaneously drew the attention of quarantined listeners around the globe — a feat both magical and tragic, as the artist gained the recognition she unquestionably deserved, yet her ability to reap the fruits of her success was extremely limited.
After four rescheduled San Francisco dates since spring 2020, Sawayama’s spring 2022 performance was a long time coming, but well worth the wait. As fans flooded into The Warfield –– many who’d held onto their tickets for nearly two years –– the anticipation to experience the pop superstar performance in person was palpable.
With her band surrounded by strobe lights and an imposing electric guitar blasting throughout the room, Sawayama dramatically stomped onto stage and struck a pose, met by deafening applause from fans. As the entrancing soundscape of “Dynasty” absorbed the diminishing guitar riff, Sawayama began singing the song’s heart-wrenching intro: “I’m losing myself in the darkness of the world/ Catch me before I fall.” Silhouetted by heavy backlighting while donning a bright red, high-shouldered Richard Quinn suit jacket, the moment was captivatingly cinematic.
As the opening song came to a close, the crowd began chanting “Rina! Rina! Rina!”. Smiling ear to ear, Sawayama shushed the audience to start a call and response of “Shut the f— up” before transitioning into her iconic “STFU!”. Backed by a heavy metal guitar and intense drums, two backup dancers appeared from the sides of the stage and began their intricate, headbanging choreography. As Sawayama’s waist-length ponytail unbridledly flailed around, the star seamlessly contrasted dark and distorted verses with a bubblegum chorus.
The pure enthusiasm of the crowd and Sawayama alike continued throughout the entire night. With Sawayama coupling emblematic moments of intensity in “Who’s Gonna Save U Now?” and “Snakeskin” with the pure pop happiness of “Paradisin’ ” and the authenticity of “Chosen Family,” wholly welcomed twists and turns filled the setlist.
Many of her songs were paired with political messaging, granting the night some witty and impactful moments; at one point in the evening, Sawayama asked the audience members to gaze deeply into their neighbors’ eyes and whisper “trans lives matter.” Other moments came off a bit empty, however, with an interlude for one of Sawayama’s many costume changes being an uncanny compilation of newscasters discussing climate change –– leaving fans to ponder how much good a costume-change-intermission serves in the grand scheme of achieving ecological justice.
In spite of a few missteps, the concert’s production value was off-the-charts, with lighting meticulously designed for each track, four fabulous costumes and jaw-dropping choreography spanning the hour-and-a-half set. Sawayama sang in near-perfect pitch all while prancing back and forth across the stage, putting her on par with 2000s pop divas and making for a continuously entertaining night.
After a beautiful rendition of the upbeat “Cherry,” Sawayama teased the audience, satirically claiming, “This is my last song! I don’t have any more songs!” As Sawayama and her dancers left the stage, the crowd erupted in applause while a commercialized compilation of her own songs and businesspeople discussing marketing strategies filled the theater.
As Sawayama and her crew reentered the stage, she laughed as she said, “I told you I had one last song, but it really just sounds like… you just want a little bit… MORE!”, immediately followed by the death-metal guitar intro to the anti-capitalist anthem “XS.” A perfect end to the night, Sawayama giggled “I tricked youuuu” before transitioning into her remarkable, dancy remix of Lady Gaga’s “Free Woman.”
Although the night eventually had to come to an end, the concert will certainly stick with the audience long into the future. Sawayama’s all-out production did nothing short of impress with incredible musicality and polished artistic vision. Well worth the two-year wait, the future of the Sawayama enterprise is even brighter than it was in 2020, with her ever-expanding fanbase unsurprisingly begging her for “a little bit more.”