Tina Arena: Live at St John-At-Hackney Church

It has been 10 long years since Tina Arena last played a show in the UK and she didn’t return empty handed. The Aussie pop diva delivered a lively and compelling 90-minute set of her best-loved hits from the last two decades and a few newly-christened tunes from her latest album, Reset.

Tina Arena Live in London

There were visitations from every chapter of Tina’s career, much to her fans’ delight: she has canvassed key singles like the 1990 uptempo ‘I Need Your Body’ to the landmark hit ‘Chains’, and right through to the present-millennium gems like ‘Soulmate #9’, ‘Never (Past Tense)’ and ‘You Set Fire to My Life’.

Vocally, Tina Arena is on-point as ever. It’s still baffling that such a big voice can come from such a petite woman. The chanteuse, who was voted Australia’s greatest female singer of all time, didn’t have any trouble at all in scaling the big notes she had carved her career with. ‘Chains’ is still the performance that best encapsulates the breadth of Arena’s vocal abilities in one song. She has got it so well calibrated, it just builds like a pressure cooker: she starts soft and slow in the verses and gradually crescendoes towards the final chorus, where she’s practically belting the roof off.

Right at the other end of the spectrum, and equally as impressive, is ‘Only Lonely’. The stripped-back performance hears Arena sing in a softer tone, accompanied by a piano. It is in this quiet moment that you realise Arena had amazingly just gone from working the crowd in a sparkly jumpsuit to making it feel like she was singing to you alone in this big old church.

Tina, although most recognised for her ballads, is no mere stand-and-deliver act. She moves with the fluidly of a seasoned entertainer between intimate acoustic numbers to energetic performances where she is strutting, twirling and closing each number with a pose. The theatricality comes to life on ‘Don’t Look Back’, a swinging number from her new album, where she belts: “I refuse to live an ordinary life!”. Indeed, ordinary, is far from anything you would describe a Tina Arena performance. What you’re essentially guaranteed is a wonderfully balanced helping of grace and razzle dazzle.

The audience, as delighted and grateful as they were for this long-awaited gig, kept the decorum for the first three quarters of the show. This is a church after all. But things started to shake lose in the last five songs, especially when ‘Symphony of Life’ blasted through the pews. The subtle dance pop single, which has been a firm fan favourite for over 10 years, completely changed the vibe and suddenly everybody was on their feet, clapping along.

‘Heaven Help My Heart’ was next, Tina and her band took it to church and the audience was saved. The 1995 single, which was a Top 30 hit here, received the best reaction of the night. Tina had quite modestly said, “If you don’t know it, just pretend you like it”, but it’s hard to believe anyone was faking it, especially after the rapturous applause which could’ve been mistaken for one at a sporting match.

When she returned from an outfit change and launched into ‘Chains’, fans were abandoning their seats and rushing forward like an altar call. The edgy reimagination of ‘I Need Your Body’ with a full band made it sound like one of those current indie pop singles with a trendy 80s flair. It was a clever way to present the song, especially since ‘I Need Your Body’ was never released in the UK. If fans didn’t already know it, they will certainly want to now. We’re sure we even heard some people humming the tune on the tube.

Tina may be preaching to the converted at this gig (sorry, last church-related pun) but there was something refreshing about reliving her biggest hits and hearing it juxtaposed with the new Reset songs. Even though she has been out of the spotlight for 10 years, you get the sense that Arena didn’t return to prove a point. Just like it was with doing this new album, she did it simply because she felt it was the right time and she allowed it to be the purest manifestation of the music she wanted to create, not something bound by external expectations. Her new single ‘You Set Fire to My Life’ is the perfect show closer. Elegant, uplifting and honest: the song is a fitting gaze into the next chapter of Tina Arena’s career. Who knows when we’ll dance again but let’s not leave it for another 10 years, yeah?

Setlist:

Out of The Blue
Soulmate #9
Sorrento Moon
Still Running
Don’t Look Back
Only Lonely
Maybe This Time (from Cabaret)
Reset All
Never (Past Tense)
Burn
Symphony of Life
Heaven Help My Heart
Chains
I Need Your Body
You Set Fire to My Life

Read my interview with Tina Arena on So So Gay: ‘There’s definitely an audience for this album in the UK’.

4/5

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