Monday, March 31, 2014

Review: Banks at Koko, London

Just before Banks takes the stage at Koko, the PA is blaring out a mixtape of 90s R&B ballads. It's wall-to-wall bumping and grinding and getting freaky "on you".

It's also a great illustration of how far we've come. Banks has taken that R&B template and bludgeoned it with the sub-bass paranoia of Massive Attack. "Before I ever met you, I never knew I could be broken in so many ways," she quivers in her opening number. It's bruised and tortured and magnificent.

What separates Banks from the rest of the sad sack R&B pack (Drake, Frank Ocean and her erstwhile touring buddy The Weeknd) is her sheer physical presence. Constantly back-lit, she prowls the stage like a grown up Wednesday Addams, draped in black and dancing as though she's trying to raise the spirits.

The spooky/sexy vibe is only enhanced by her sultry, spine-tingling vocals, which really shine during a mid-set acoustic section - featuring a breathy jazz reading of Warm Water, and a playful acoustic take on Aaliyah's Are You That Somebody? The crowd, surprisingly, knows every word of both - although the best reaction is reserved for the yearning Waiting Game, which builds to a stunningly claustrophobic climax.

"I'm buzzing off your energy," the singer beams as the set draws to a close. But she has one last, secret weapon: A new song, Stick, built around the irresistible click of a castanet (think Missy Elliot's Pass That Dutch). Smoking hot and instantly memorable, it must be a shoo-in for her next, breakthrough single.

As the song unfolds, Banks struts to the front of the stage and purrs: "I wanna know how you taste." Perhaps we haven't come that far, after all.

Before I Ever Met You
This Is What It Feels Like
Bedroom wall
Fall over
Warm Water
Are You That Somebody? (Aaliyah cover)
Waiting Game

What You Need (The Weeknd cover)

PS: Banks plays Koko again on Tuesday, 1 April. It's sold out but there were a few last-minute production tickets on the door tonight. As you can probably tell, I'd recommend it.

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