Live Review: Australian Open Finals Festival @ Kia Arena Sunday 29th Jan

1 February 2023 | 1:15 pm | Cyclone Wehner

Forest Claudette, Flight Facilities and more wowed crowds at the Australian Open Finals Festival.

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The third day of 2023's Australian Open saw Untitled Group's nascent Finals Festival music event come into its own – the Grand Slam overall boasting record-breaking crowds. Indeed, the Kia Arena, too, was filled to capacity, with a progressive homegrown program crossing R&B and dance music – including Melbourne rising star Forest Claudette and Sydney's future bass combo Flight Facilities. Some punters apparently attended solely for the live entertainment, bypassing the men's singles final altogether – Serbian tennis GOAT Novak Djokovic historically defeating popular Greek hotshot Stefanos Tsitsipas. The overcast weather, and light rain, under Kia's retractable roof, didn't deter them.

Crucially, the stage set-up in the Kia Arena was different to that of the first day – the previously remote platform now at ground level and floor accessible. This reviewer missed Willo due to a media pass mix-up, but caught Forest Claudette in what was astonishingly his official inaugural Melbourne show.

The avant-R&B singer is routinely likened to the elusive Frank Ocean, but is so much more than a sonic acolyte. Last year, Claudette – who hails from a rural township in The Patch, known for berry-farming – generated buzz with his six-track EP The Year Of February on Sony Music.

Snappily attired, Claudette immediately announced his presence live. He soulfully layered aerial vocals over liquid jazz grooves, opening with his debut single Creaming Soda. Claudette concentrated on September's EP, with Hologram (his personal fave) and the melancholically uplifting Goodbye as the highlight. Embracing the Ocean comparison, he covered the American's 2017 loosie Provider – his solo performance on guitar reminiscent of Miguel's mythic industry showcase at Boney in 2013 (YouTube it!).

A canny Claudette used his set to not only introduce himself to a potential new fanbase but also to plug that EP and upcoming show. "It will be this but more," he teased.

The Gold Coast's Lastlings have had a busy summer, lately joining Falls Festival. On Sunday, the brother/sister duo of Amy and Josh Dowdle were the ideal warm-up for Flight Facilities, bringing atmospheric electronic vibes – their launch song 2018's Deja Vu. Aligned with RÜFÜS DU SOL's Rose Avenue Records, Lastlings are evidently preparing a sequel to 2020's First Contact. They recently aired the break-up number Holding Me Like Water – an especially ethereal moment in their Finals Festival slot.

Expectedly, Flight Facilities proved themselves a worthy marquee act, the house pilots last appearing at the pre-pany AO20. They performed live, rather than DJing, with guest singers Owl Eyes, glamourous in a mint-green dress, and Ric Rufio, in athleisure.

Members Hugo Gruzman and James Lyell have been gigging outside an album cycle at seasonal festivals such as Beyond The Valley, issuing FOREVER back in 2021, but they quietly dropped a two-track EP, Lost Forever, in November. Still, at Finals Festival, Flight Facilities made even their old repertoire sound fresh.

The Future Classic signings began with Stay – originally recorded for FOREVER by US singer/songwriter Your Smith, but performed at Finals Festival by longtime tour vocalist Owl Eyes – the Melburnian, who featured on Heart Attack off 2014's Down To Earth, poised to celebrate the 10th anniversary of her own debut Nightswim this year.

Flight Facilities covered Modjo's 2000s French touch jam Lady (Hear Me Tonight), adding an acid wobble – Rufio unnerving security by venturing into the stands. Owl Eyes then returned for a welcome rendition of Flight Facilities' 2010 break-out Crave You. Towards the end, there was a wedding proposal – and Flight Facilities played their epic piano house banger If Only as a defacto encore, Owl Eyes channelling Emma Louise.

It says much that Flight Facilities attracted even British tourists to Finals Festival – the outfit a legitimate international drawcard. Hopefully Finals Festival is here to stay.