Cloaked, and flanked by two dancers, Banks emerges on a stage bathed in red light. A slick, sexy performance follows where the millennial queen of dark R&B, like a high priestess of black magic, pours her heart into tales of murder, sex, depression and revenge – all whilst holding down a 10/10 dance routine.
Raw and frail, yet powerfully stunning in her expression, she performs the final leg of her Altar tour, named after her critically acclaimed 2016 album. Inspired to great extent by her own turbulent, at times lonely life the album was perhaps particularly relatable to many in a year full of political tumult.
This evening she brings all that worry together, mesmerising London’s Hammersmith Apollo by channelling the anxiety and turning it into strength. Playing all the hits from her seductive repertoire, including Gemini Feed, Judas and I Fuck With Myself, she spellbinds her audience, who chant along with every note. Banks’ sound is far from easy to pin down, but her unique vibe can be compared to that of The Weeknd – only her lyrics dig deeper. Rather than making the female protagonist a victim, she puts herself at the heart of action, and revenge.
Despite an odd interlude, where Banks asks the audience to sing a loop repeatedly with her vocalising over the top – a segment that doesn’t quite fit into the otherwise electric evening – the show is flawless, and the fans lap it up. Anyone who thought Banks might be a bit niche or underground will find their illusions shattered. This audience is hardcore and her following reflects her: young, beautiful and grinding to hits like Frail To The Hilt and Waiting Game. Hers is the soundtrack of a generation and of a movement. Tainted by dark times, reflective on mental health, sharpened by hardening political climates, and sexy on her own terms. Emotions are real and raw in choreography, in lyrics, and in the musical vibrations filling the air.
Hit tune Poltergeist and new single Underdog channel an inner rage, while the bass-heavy Waiting Game is particularly powerful in its performance. Banks and her two dancers swing head and arms down, like pendulums, creating a trance-like visual experience. As engulfed as she is in her music and her movements, her audience is right there with her in her universe. The lingering feeling is that, in a world full of darkness, Banks can turn pain into power. She is defiant, and we love her for it.