Live Review

RAYE’s sensational orchestra-backed O2 Arena show is the ultimate underlining of a generational star

15th March 2024

No exaggeration, this is one of the finest shows we’ve ever witnessed.

It’s impossible to imagine - watching RAYE flit masterfully between endearing conversational intimacy and mind-blowing, dramatic vocal prowess - how any label execs could possibly have failed to acknowledge the potential of the singer standing front and centre of the O2 Arena tonight.

Not two weeks since the 26-year-old graced the same stage, making history with a record-breaking six BRIT Award wins in one night, the singer born Rachel Keen’s return is an equally momentous one. Backed by the Heritage Orchestra and a full gospel choir, tiered up the stage to reach her name glimmering in old-school Hollywood lights, tonight’s outing - entitled My 21st Century Symphony - is a show that raises the bar in terms of class, charm, and sheer skill. It’s a masterclass, not least during a second-half version of ‘Buss It Down’, when RAYE splits the crowd into sections to teach them a multipart harmony - the sort of slightly time-consuming, slightly nerdy exercise that could have sunk like a lead balloon were it not for the force of charisma leading from the stage.

An orchestral reworking of debut ‘My 21st Century Blues’ that puts RAYE’s staggering range and vocal dexterity at the fore, it casts the singer as a closer successor to Amy Winehouse than any of her British R&B forebears; bringing a classic sensibility to these extremely raw, extremely personal tales of addiction, body dysmorphia and abuse, the way that RAYE fuses modern anxieties with timeless musicality is inspired. Trilling into octaves that Mariah Carey would struggle with, and adding rousing, choir-backed depth to the likes of ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ (which also receives its own instrumental ‘Requiem’), there are countless moments when the audience are left breaking into impromptu mid-song cheers at the sheer virtuoso performance of it all.

RAYE, O2 Arena, London RAYE, O2 Arena, London

At others, such as a hugely emotional ‘Ice Cream Man’ - a song about her experiences of sexual abuse - you can hear a pin drop. “This song reminds me to be strong and it reminds me to be loud,” she begins, sitting at the piano and becoming visibly, justifiably emotional. Indeed, throughout the evening, it’s RAYE’s wildly endearing, open personality that steers the show into truly one-off territory. From the night’s first moments, during which she takes off her jewellery to stop the rattling feeling awkward (“I know this isn’t what a professional does,” she laughs), to pre-song stories detailing the struggles behind them, via an attempt to learn people in the back row’s names by a frankly ridiculous game of audience Chinese whispers, she somehow makes the O2 Arena feel like an intimate gathering - albeit one with a 40 piece orchestra nuzzled behind her.

At this point, RAYE has already proved several times over that her previous label struggles were in no way indicative of her own talent. Following her BRITs triumph, her star is bound to continue to ascend even higher. But tonight goes one further, suggesting that RAYE might not just be a true star of the moment, but the kind of once-in-a-generation artist that could transcend even her current meteoric buzz.

Tags: Raye, Reviews, Live Reviews

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