Banks reveled in a dark mystique, punctuated only by slick choreography and select moments of intimacy.
At a sold-out Royale on Tuesday night, Banks did not hide behind her usual deafening bass and R&B textures. Finding subtlety in a mix that served as much as a veil as it did a statement, Banks toed the line between intimacy and force. She found power in driving renditions of tame recorded tracks and safety in the fog and dancers that surrounded, but never enveloped her.
From the outset, Banks eschewed all hints of introverted stoicism. Gliding onto stage with her own poetry reverberating throughout the club, she launched into tight, controlled, auto-tuned, and distorted screams before ceding to the dense vocal loop of “Poltergeist.” Flanked by two dancers, Banks gesticulated with each verse and stomped with two mics in hand. Her vulnerability was calculated, but more importantly, visible.
The jarring choreography continued and augmented the otherwise sparse “Fuck With Myself.” Banks leaned in to kiss the veiled dancer to her side, and quickly fell back into the jolts of her routine. For Banks, the choreography elicited the bold statements (“I fuck with myself more than anybody else”) that typically blend with her dense electronic atmosphere. Akin to Lorde’s new Es Devlin devised tank of dancers, Banks’ onstage muses pushed the intricacies of each track, though this theatric element at times became a reliance. On “Waiting Game,” lackadaisical arm swings mirrored the track’s throbbing bass, but an apt transition into “This Is What It Feels Like,” (sans dance) revitalized the crowd.
“I wouldn’t tell anyone I was a musician,” Banks remarked, reflecting on her development before easing into the crooning track “Better.” Contesting a swell of synths, Banks echoed: “I can love you better than she can,” with exceptional control, before venturing into more recent 2016 material. Launching into “Weaker Girl,” a track that is direct, but pallid, on record—especially in the middle of Bank’s sonically flat second album, The Altar—Banks converted her audience. The reticent album version became an anthem (“I’ma need a bad, I’ma need a bad/motherfucker like me, hey, hey”). Despite a quick breather with the acoustic “Mother Earth,” Banks led her audience through a slew of anthems that finally reached their full potential on the stage, freed from the confines of the album.
“Judas,” put her dancers front and center with choreography that subtly evoked Aaliyah’s exceptional “Are You That Somebody,” an indirect nod that demonstrates Banks development since 2014’s Goddess. Rather than covering the track as she has on previous tours, she imbued Aaliyah’s character into every detail, down to the oversized, high-gloss, biker jacket. Evidenced by the pulsing rhythms that marked her set’s conclusion, Banks proved that she is more than just another R&B spinoff artist and with a sound ripe for further curation.