Live Music + Gig Reviews

Banks @ Trinity, Bristol

20 March 2014



Edinburgh-based DJ and LuckyMe deckhand Eclair Fifi – a rising star in the world of dance (she’s just got a Radio 1 stint) – opens the night’s proceedings at Bristol’s Trinity Centre. A converted church, it appears to be a wondrous coalescence of setting and sound when it comes to bill-topper Banks‘ elegiac neo-soul balladry.

For Eclair Fifi however, it’s ruthless. Fifi’s a victim of either logistical eff-uppery (it’s the first night of the tour, so perhaps the kinks aren’t yet ironed out?) or rude crowds, and her set goes unnoticed by most thanks to a KO combination of ambiguous mid-level house lighting and subtle volume shifts. She arrives and departs without saying a word, and by all accounts, appears to be soundchecking.

The lights do go down for LA’s Jillian Banks – in fact, they’re integral to the show. As she launches into Before I Ever Met You to christen the gig, laser-guided spotlights descend from the heavens, aimed squarely to the back of the venue. Banks herself is marginally uplit, appearing only as a silhouette between swollen blues and UV flickers.

The rigorously choreographed lights show, mottled with lasers and a sci-fi spectrum of dappled strobes, is like an extra performer. Silhouettes, especially at the outset of the set, are used with such operatic drama that it may as well be kabuki. She injects depth, unwavering atmosphere, and a theatricality to her performance; Banks uses lasers and spotlights as her very own Anton du Beke, pirouetting and lilting and quivering like the tide. It’s a trance-rave style of dance, with some R&B pizazz splashed in. Many hand gestures are thrown, shapes are cut and she oozes a charisma that her introspective sounds belie. She’s jarringly confident, channelling R&B divas of yore such as TLC and Aaliyah. Considering the travesty during the opening act, this slick professionalism is a leviathan contrast.

When it comes to her actual music, she rattles through collagen-plumped renditions of her EP hits. They’re all substantially fuller, far from the fragility and bone-shattering trauma; it’s still magnum-calibre emotion, but it’s more empowering. It’s Beyoncé grade power, instead of Grecian tragedy, which gives a fresh twist on the cuts which we’ve peeped so far. Perhaps we’ve just been reading them wrong, but you shouldn’t leave thinking these are tales of sadness, but rather pumped up and ready to ravage the planet.

This Is What It Feels Like, Brain, Change and Waiting Game are all phenomenally huge stadium soul; the kind of cuts you’d imagine Rihanna screeching into the rafters. Banks has a lot more panache, however, and while she can belt – oh, and can she belt – she’s got blatant integrity, and performs with striking, emotive confidence. Every effort she unloads, double-tapping our hearts, is pristine pop. She couldn’t miss a note if she tried.

Banks also plays two world premieres. The first, Goddess, is introduced with a brief speech, ending with the cheer-raising line: “This song is called Goddess ’cause every woman is a fucking goddess.” It’s a stylistically different cut – a lot less velveteen, and the satin-y synths are replaced by angular bass lurces and post-dubstep beats. It’s launched out with gusto, and though the crowd are hearing it for the first time, they go bonkers. This isn’t the brooding intensity she’s garnered fame with, this is immense Top 40 pop. It makes it obvious why she got that BBC Sound Of 2014 nomination. The second track to be debuted is called Sick (or maybe it’s Stick?), a Disclosure-ian assault of polished future-garage and precise, clinical rhythms. It has oodles of pace. Then the stormclouds retreat, and she morphs into an aggressive, snarling beast. It’s emotional, kinetic and bewitching.

As much as the show’s about music, it’s also a visual tour de force. That, if anything, is the mark of a genuine pop star in this day and age – and that’s exactly what she is. This time next year, she’ll be gracing mammoth stadia with poise and only faint memories of intimate venues. She’s got the impeccable voice – even rivalling Aaliyah, whose Are You That Somebody? is covered – the innate stage presence, the thundering tunes and the enigmatic elegance. Banks is this generation’s lauded pop diva.

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More on Banks
Banks – Serpentina
Banks @ Hammersmith Apollo, London
London Gigs: 23-29 October 2017
Banks – Goddess
Banks @ Trinity, Bristol