South Side Ballroom, Dallas
Friday, Sept. 22, 2017
Jillian Banks, who goes by just her last name struggled to make her voice heard over the boisterous crowd at South Side Music Hall on Friday night.
“Sometimes it's still crazy that people know the words to my songs,” she murmured to the crowd halfway through her one-hour set. “I travel all over the place, and the last few shows that I’ve had, I’ve been looking around and seeing people all singing my lyrics. It's so fucking good.”
Banks’ speaking voice is barely louder than a whisper, which is shocking, given how powerful her singing voice is. It comes across as timid, yet it also sounds sensual, like you just walked into her bedroom, waking her from a long sleep. Whether she does it intentionally to strike a contrast to her fiery sex-goddess stage presence or for more practical reasons like conserving her vocal chords, the result is the same: She triggers an ASMR response, making scalps and spines tingle.
The brief chat preceded “Better,” a song heavily influenced by R&B in which she tries to convince a man she can love him better than another woman. Banks asked that people put away their phones and sing along with her.
Afterward, she thanked the crowd for its participation. But she never needed to ask people to sing along or thank them. It’s clear Banks’ fans thrive on belting out her lyrics, whether in typical solo environments, like the car or shower, or in a concert venue.
At the beginning of the show, the audience wasted no time backing her up with: “Cuz I fuck with myself more than anybody else!” chanting the chorus to the second number, “F**k with Myself,” from her sophomore album, Altar. It was clear audience members relished yelling the line at the tops of their lungs.
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Lyrics like that are why people love Banks. She unabashedly celebrates her power while recriminating past lovers for not appreciating her enough. It’s something we’ve all wanted to do and a message we can all get behind.
What’s obvious from music videos like the one for “F**k with Myself” is that Banks has a body awareness native to dancers. She’s fantastic at expressing herself kinesthetically, and she skulked around the stage like a seductive cat, dropping it low and rolling her hips in all kinds of directions.
She’s pretty damn good at choreography too. With her two very skilled female backup dancers, the show was like a mini contemporary interpretive dance performance, just as stirring for the eyes as for the ears. And she fucked with the dancers as much as with herself, grabbing one for a full-mouthed kiss, which elicited an explosion of cheering.
Banks never broke character or strayed from her persona, slathering a thick layer of provocation on the crowd. It's decadent and over the top at times, but it's also delicious to watch.
To kick off the set, she marched out from backstage to the beat of a Lemonade-esque monologue, dressed in a black leather bustier, floor-skimming skirt and a cathedral-length black veil that obscured her face and was carried on either side by her two dancers.
The only shame is that the audio quality was muddy, making the monologue, Banks’ utterances between songs and even some songs themselves indecipherable. Thankfully, her music is so emotional that articulation is almost unnecessary. Whoever was mixing audio got it mostly figured out a quarter of the way into the set. While it wasn’t perfect, it corrected a lot of the garble.
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Between Banks' two albums, it seemed that the few songs she played from her first, Goddess, got more crowd response. Perhaps it's better known than her second album, or perhaps it's just better.
The slower ballads from Altar didn’t go off well in the crowded music hall. There was steady roar of chatter to compete with, and people seemed to have little patience for anything other than the anthems that made Banks famous.
For an artist of Banks’ stature, it was surprising that she played only an hourlong set with a one-song encore. It came out to less than 15 songs total, only about three of which were from her first album: “Waiting Game,” “This is What it Feels Like” and “Drowning.” Those three got an amazing crowd response with people singing the lyrics while Banks and her backup dancers enacted a performance that was worthy of a dance competition TV show.
Anticipation that Banks would play for at least an hour and a half made the show feel a bit brusque. But, like the quote famously attributed to Shakespeare, “Expectation is the root of all heartache.” Banks gave her all, living her truth and affirmation on the stage and leaving her movement seared into memory. And for that, the audience couldn't be too disappointed.