O2 Academy 2, Oxford
28th March 2014
The catalyst for the emotional connection between artist and audience takes many forms. Jillian Banks connects with her music by making her listeners feel unsettled, rendering them uncomfortable, then intrigued – and ultimately hooked.
Tonight she opens with “Before I Ever Met You”, in which her slightly untuned voice drifts over a menacing, Massive Attack-y crunchy trip-hop backing, with cymbals creating dissonance. In “This Is What It Feels Like”, her double-tracked octave vocals take a vacant nasal tone and quiver melismatically over a creaking bass and deep orchestral stabs, which, combined with the back lighting on stage and her aloof demeanour, give an air of spookiness.
She does get more chatty, revealing the dark place and insecurities behind the writing of “Goddess” – a somewhat confrontational plea via the medium of low-rumbling r’n’b for every woman to feel like the goddess they are, she says – and how most of her songs start with just voice and keyboard. A stripped down version of “Warm Water” proves that the darkness is nuanced in her voice, tunes and form as much as in the lyrics and arrangements. In the late-night slinky ballad “Bedroom Wall”, a collaboration with Oxford’s own TEED, delicately emotional and repetitive vocals make desperation and isolation palpable.
The thirteen song set includes two covers. She was so nervous when she played her first festival that she played covers backstage to relax her – and “it felt like butter”, so she replays Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody” tonight. Her first time ever touring was in support of The Weeknd, whose sparse and discordant “What You Need” suits and concludes the night’s mood perfectly.
In terms of lugubrious synthy r’n’b, The XX and London Grammar might have got there before and Lorde might have broken through earlier, but Banks is more sinister than all three; if you’ll let her, she’ll get under your skin – and stay there.
From Nightshift, May 2014