Arts & Entertainment, Music

Banks speaks to all the senses at Le Metropolis

It didn’t take long for listeners to latch onto Jillian Banks, better known simply by her last name: Banks. Her sound is an amalgamation of pop and R&B with a spooky techno-alternative twist; her visuals are dark and laden with metaphors; her style is sleek, seductive, and minimalist. After releasing her first album, Goddess, in 2014, touring with The Weeknd, and collaborating on singles with a diverse range of artists including Chet Faker, Banks released her second album, The Altar, in October 2016. While Goddess read like a diary of hate poems to an abusive ex, The Altar beamed with the confidence of a grown woman newly in love with herself.

On the most recent stretch of The Altar tour, Banks made her way up the East Coast of North America, reaching Montreal on June 5. She was greeted by a buzzing crowd at Le Metropolis. Her opener, Toulouse, a techno-R&B singer-songwriter best known for his song, "No Running From Me", featured in the film Fifty Shades Darker, set the stage for her performance with a short, but soulful set of songs. His seductive dance moves and smooth voice was a fitting prelude to the hour of Banks that followed.  

The show was scattered with theatrics from beginning to end. When the lights dimmed to signal the start of her act, Banks waited to play a short recording of her stoically reciting a poem before emerging through grey smoke onto the stage. As the instrumental introduction to "Poltergeist" played, she stepped slowly and deliberately toward center stage, her body veiled by a black gauze sheath, followed by two dancers on either side of her stepping to the same beat. Her entrance was a reference to the name of her album and tour as it bore resemblance to a bride walking towards the altar—yet much darker in tone.

Her energy did not remain calm for long, however. When she began to sing, it was clear that the audience was in for a high-energy performance. Banks’ vocals were powerful and passionate, assisted by two microphones: One for amplification alone, and another for distorting her voice to sound low-pitched and ghoulish. The emotional range of her setlist was inspiring. Switching from self-love anthems like "Trainwreck" to rawer, more vulnerable hymns like "Waiting Game" reminded audience members of the journey Banks has taken throughout her musical career and her ability to recover after hardship.

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Though powerful, her setlist was noticeably missing some of her biggest hits over the years, including "Brain and”Goddess"—tunes off her first album that were ranked number one on Spotify for periods of time in 2014 and 2015. Also—and arguably more surprisingly—neglected from the show was her newest single, "Crowded Places," which currently ranks number one on Spotify, and was featured in the penultimate episode of HBO’s hit show Girls.

Despite the omission of some of her most popular songs, the audience remained engaged. Every number was met by a chorus of fans loyally reciting the lyrics. Perhaps the impassioned nature of the songs she chose, like "Drowning" and "Judas"—two of her angriest post-break-up songs—required their full energy. Or perhaps the silence Banks commanded while reciting a poem in sign language before taking the stage solo for "Mother Earth"  kept fans’ eyes glued to her every move. Whatever it was, Banks maintained a visibly engrossed audience—seldom breaking from dancing and singing along—throughout the entire show.

The dancers at Banks’ sides appeared on stage every other song for the duration of the show, each time wearing grey gauze in a different way. Jerking and contorting their bodies left and right, they mirrored Banks’ own movements, in a performance style that toed the line between creepy and seductive. This line is one that Banks—who often refers to herself fondly as "creepy"—treads often. Yet, there is something empowering about Banks’ ownership over her body. Her moves, at times provocative—squatting low at the edge of the stage, or holding the mic stand between her legs—were signs of her sexual bravado.

Though the ex-lovers she writes about may not have recognized her beauty and wit, the audience at Le Metropolis did. Complemented by dark, seductive visuals and dance, Banks’ performance was a stunning roller-coaster of emotions.

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