As the threat of another lockdown began to feel more likely for Brisbane just over a month ago, it is a triumph that weeks later the city would get to host the opening night of the first major arena tour in Australia since the coming of COVID-19.
Perhaps because of the tension, on a cold Sunday evening, excitement filled the air as audiences checked into the Brisbane Convention Centre to hear homegrown icon Tina Arena fill the venue with her incomparable sound.
As a woman whose career began by dazzling television screens of the ’70s on Australian variety program Young Talent Time, 50 years later that same child star has grown into a sophisticated and resilient entertainer. It is as if the matured audience has grown up alongside her.
Just after 7.30pm, violinist Eric Avery appears onstage to warm the audience up on such a cold night.
An Aboriginal man, Avery begins by acknowledging his ancestors before him, and continues to pay tribute to Australia’s first nations people in a raw but moving set. With his unique voice and transcendent violin skills, Eric’s introduction to the evening is startling but also poignant.
While the arena remains still during Avery’s set, a flood of excitement fills the venue once it concludes. Led by some enthusiastic fans sitting in the front rows, a large portion of the venue begin to shout her name, and before too long she hears them, and the Arena gets ready for Tina as the lights go down.
As her band appears on stage with elusive imagery gracing the screens, the performance opens with her early noughties hit Symphony of Life. Soon enough, she becomes noticeable in the dark, donning a glittering cape making her look larger than life. As she removes the cloak, a glitzy purple dress is exposed as audiences cheer for her official arrival. Royalty, she really is.
After an extravagant entrance, she bursts into an early highlight of the show, Heaven Help My Heart. As the song begins, loyal fans are on their feet and singing along to the upbeat, timeless anthem. Acknowledging the audience for first time, she toasts to “the good times ahead” with her teacup in hand, declaring this night the first. It is a warm welcome from a singer whose star power is often intimidating.
In what is the first of four cover songs of the evening, Arena performs seventies hit Could It Be Magic by Barry Manilow, and before long leaves the stage and returns in a new oversized black dress. What follows is Caruso, a tender number paying tribute to her Italian heritage.
As a strong critic of the ageism women face in the music industry, Arena stands by her views on the topic before performing As If We Never Said Goodbye a number from the musical production of Sunset Boulevard. Speaking of the storyline involving an aged Hollywood star rejected by the entertainment industry for simply growing older, she asserts how she won’t let it happen to her. “Not this little duck” she declares and thank god for that.
Before long, Avery is back on stage to assist her in performing Sorrento Moon, one of her most popular songs. During this sultry number, Arena’s admiration for Avery’s talent is noticeable, and it is a strong example of the pair’s musicianship.
Following along with new tracks Dancing on Thin Ice and Church, it shows that Arena doesn’t just rely on classic hits to entertain audiences, and that she still has plenty more to say with these recent releases.
After a period of hush from the audience they are commanded up off their feet for Burn, in what becomes one of the most connective parts of the show. Transitioning into a cover of beloved R.E.M. hit Everybody Hurts, this number shows that before the stunning stage visuals and immaculate gowns, Arena only needs one thing to entertain audiences: her voice.
Bidding farewell and leaving the stage once more, just moments later she returns for the encore. While Greatest Gift delights, the climax really occurs afterwards, when she concludes the set with her signature song Chains. Almost 30 years after its release, it’s unbelievable that Arena can still so effortlessly hit the song’s enormous notes, but after all, in 2013 she wasn’t declared Australia’s best female singer for nothing.
Over a year-long period where the last major Australian tour felt like a distant memory, there isn’t a much better way than to usher in this new beginning than with such a timeless Australian talent. Tina could fill just about any Arena with her enormous voice, and that’s just what audiences need after such a rough year.
Tina Arena’s Enchante tour concludes in Wollongong on May 26 and Canberra May 28 to 30.