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Live Review: Australian Open Finals Festival @ Kia Arena Friday 27th Jan

30 January 2023 | 5:09 pm | Cyclone Wehner

Vanessa Amorosi stole the show at the Australian Open Finals Festival.

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The Australian Open Grand Slam is more than a tennis event on the Melbourne calendar. It's a summer carnival with food, music and corporate branding – even fashion.

This year the Untitled Group – the independent Melbourne promoters behind Beyond The Valley and Ability Fest – assumed the programming of the tournament's music component from Frontier Touring with a fresh perspective, introducing the AO Finals Festival. Admirably, Untitled curated a predominantly homegrown bill as Australia's entertainment industry still recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. Plus, they've added dancing Auslan interpreters.

Headlining the AO23's Pride Day, held in conjunction with the sixth LGBTQIA+ tennis showdown Glam Slam (presented by Ralph Lauren), was Melbourne's, Vanessa Amorosi. (Outside, Peroni booked the excellent DJ Mrs Wallace, playing groovy house.)

Running on the last three days of the AO, the event-within-an-event likewise happened in the new Kia Arena – very different surrounds to the old AO Live Stage in the Birrarung Marr parkland, Brit Billy Idol notably appearing in 2020. That switch did alter the atmosphere, at least on the first day. Indeed, the stage was an elevated platform overlooking an otherwise inaccessible floor, the audience seated on the sides.

After an early set by the local DJ Bertie, Sydney art-popster Montaigne came on, wearing a blue skort matching Kia's colour scheme. The former Australian Eurovision Song Contest entrant has expressed dismay over the response to 2022's concept album making it!, an exciting foray into hyperpop, on Twitter, despite receiving solid reviews. However, Montaigne cheerfully performed the glitchily boppy lead single now (in space). The singer/songwriter, who toured nationally in September, delivered an energetic show, their voice pliable (and sans experimental Auto-Tune) and dance moves nimble, all backed by a band. Alas, Montaigne struggled to connect with the crowd due to the staging – and low sound.

Fortunately, the audio levels were cranked up for Amorosi. She succeeded, too, in overcoming the challenges of the venue, having played Olympic Games ceremonies. Amorosi raised eyebrows when last year's self-issued LP City Of Angels was nominated for an ARIA in the 'Best Soul/R&B Release' category. But equally strange is how she's never won any ARIAs in the past. Soul divas in Australia like Amorosi have traditionally been subsumed into 'rock' by being depicted as blues vocalists. Yet, at heart, she's a soulster – her powerhouse voice certainly rivalling that of Adele.

For Finals Festival, Amorosi, garbed in black but ever-sanguine, revisited her classics but also threw in popular renditions, pumping up the party – and cheekily going over schedule. Unpretentious, she let rip on the opening Have A Look, her 1999 hit debut single, before covering Eurythmics' New Wave evergreen Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) in a pub rock-style with big guitar and appropriately cheesy synths, leading into the electro-pop-era Mr Mysterious (minus TV Rock's Seany B). Amorosi even made her ballads work, pulling out 2008's platinum Perfect. She performed the originally sombre Shine as a largely impromptu duet with a friend, incorporating TLC's Waterfalls in a bridge.

Amorosi nearly peaked with a rousing version of Proud Mary – the '60s song penned by Creedence Clearwater Revival's John Fogerty but associated with Ike and Tina Turner. Inevitably, she saved her signature anthem for last, with a festive and feverish, Absolutely Everybody. Amorosi really is a pro of pros – and an AO music champion. Finals Festival has huge promise.