Photos by Annalin Schell
By Max Hunter, Staff Writer
Artist: Genesis Owusu
Venue: The Sinclair
When: Thursday, October 19th
Genesis Owusu is a prolific R&B artist hailing from Canberra, Australia. Coming onto the scene in 2019 with his breakout hit “WUTD,” and then following up in 2021 with his debut studio album Smiling with No Teeth, the stage was set for the startling and fresh STRUGGLER, released just this year. Owusu’s sophomore album is raucous, narrative and incendiary. Compared to his first record, which is more straightforward R&B, STRUGGLER is a beautiful hellstorm, merging his previous style with rock, rap and, most importantly, punk.
FIRE, BRIMSTONE AND EXISTENTIALISM: THE CONCEPT
STRUGGLER is most certainly a concept album, and one of the most innovative that I have seen in a long time. It is the first record that I have ever seen to truly utilize the new Storyline feature on Spotify. Here, Owusu explains the plot of the album in a few short sentences per song, allowing the audience to contextualize what they are listening to.
The storyline of the starting track, “Leaving the Light,” contains a perfect setup to both the song and the album at large, stating “Chapter One. An introduction to the absurd. There’s a wall of fire and brimstone behind you. Outrun it.”
Over the course of the album, we follow "Roach" — described as “tiny, insignificant, but will not be crushed” — as he fights a chaotic, brutal, uncompromising world, personified as “God” or “The Old Man.” Roach stumbles as he questions his existence on “See You There,” picks himself back up on “Freak Boy” and “Tied Up!,” and slowly makes peace with his life and the inherent absurdity it includes throughout the rest of the project.
This is a fantastic album that I highly recommend to anyone interested in genre-bending, thematically complex, punk-inspired R&B.
And thankfully for me, I was able to see this incredible project live!
A MAN, A BOOK AND A LIGHT PANEL
Alone and excited on Thursday, October 19th at the delightfully intimate Sinclair in Harvard Square, I shuffled and wove my way to the front row. I was curious when workers brought out a stool with a large book on it and hauled a giant, black, rectangular box to the center of the stage. But just minutes later my confusion was dashed. Regal, pensive and almost priest-like, Genesis Owusu walked out to rowdy shouts and applause in big glasses and a long, black robe.
No words, no preface. Owusu outstretched his arms and the revving synth of “Leaving the Light” began, and everyone lost their minds. Strobe lights emanated from the panel behind him as he jumped, yelled, ad-libbed and danced his way through an amazing opening song.
The set list was ordered similarly to the recorded album, which I assumed would happen. In my opinion, it would be a disservice to the narrative core of the record to mix and jumble the order of the songs. Each track was placed intentionally on the album, so I was grateful when the live show reflected that. That being said, the set list did include a couple songs in Owusu’s discography beyond just STRUGGLER.
He sang a captivating and stomping version of “Gold Chains,” off his first album, which flowed perfectly off the end of his sultry and fluid rendition of “See You There.” And rather than performing the quieter second half of his grooviest track on the album, “That’s Life (A Swamp),” he used the song’s beat switch to move to his most commercially successful song, “WUTD.”
In addition, interspersed through the show, Owusu read from a massive glowing book. Reading actually isn’t the right word to describe it. Owusu would hold the book up, illuminating his face and stand silent and statuesque as a booming voice from above spoke passages regarding existence, chaos, and finding meaning. Owusu also held a brief intermission in which he spoke directly to the crowd, expressing his deep gratitude for all of our support, and as he put it, “Buying concert tickets? In this f***ing economy?”
OWNING THE SPACE
Overall, this was an incredible show and an incredible experience. I danced my heart out to “That’s Life (A Swamp),” moshed to “Balthazar” and stood in my jealousy as Owusu hopped into the center of the pit numerous times to dance around with his fans. Though he was alone on stage, it really did not feel like it. His presence owned all the space in the room and he took happy advantage of it. This man is a great singer, great artist, GREAT performer and certainly someone to watch over the coming years.