Live Review: Banks

ABC2 – 23/3

In an era where every pop star has a media-managed online persona, Banks has the most distinctive of all: by not having one. Her Facebook and Twitter pages are openly run by her management. This, you suspect, is a marketing gimmick, until she steps on stage.

Banks comes across as very shy and nervous about performing in a room of at least 300 people, so maybe she is just as shy about broadcasting herself to thousands online. Regardless, this is an impressive turnout for an artist with just two EPs and two singles, albeit backed up with a podium place in BBC’s Sound of 2014 poll.

She is backed onstage by just two band members, a drummer to her left and a keyboardist to her right, leaving her very much isolated in centre stage and adding impact to her highly personal brand of alt-R&B (not a keyboard shortcut, but a somewhat electronic-influenced subgenre pioneered by the likes of Jessie Ware). It’s only when the crowd join her in screaming out excellent recent single ‘Brain’ that Banks feels confident enough to start talking to the crowd, who are incredibly receptive. She is humble and sincere, and seems genuinely surprised by the enthusiasm on display on a Sunday night. When she claims this is the best crowd she’s played to on this tour, you are inclined to believe her.

This is not a flawless live performance by any means: one of the standout elements of Banks’s music – the multi-layered vocal harmonies – is difficult to replicate live; she sings over a backing track at points, which comes across somewhat clumsily. Her encore, a stripped down version of ‘Warm Water’ and a superb cover of The Weeknd’s ‘What You Need’, is played solely with live instrumentation and exhibits Banks’s voice far better, and perhaps points towards how she will approach live performances in future. This is, after all, only her first headline tour, and there is no question, given the quality of her songs, that there will be more to come.

[Ally Shaw]

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