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The power of hype can be at once heaven-sent and a devilish omen. Artists are often unwittingly tasked with not only living up to a name others have made for them, but also exceeding those lofty expectations. One would assume that pressure is heightened even more so when you are explicitly labelled “one to watch”.
Los Angeles singer and songwriter Jillian Banks has been the reigning queen of the music blog scene for the last two years — notably named on BBC’s Sound of 2014 guide and the Hype Machine’s Music Blog Zeitgeist — and, as was evident by the crowd gathered at St Stephen’s Uniting Church last night, has now risen beyond the watch list to one we’re all closely watching right now.
That her only Laneway sideshow should be held within a church seems emblematic of BANKS’ Goddess-like persona, a title which also graces the cover of her debut album. The audience filling the church pews erupted into excited cheers as the LA songstress prowled onto centre stage of the hallowed venue, clad in a long black dress with a cape elegantly draped over her shoulders.
As the crowd collectively leaned forward, those at the front close enough to touch the singer, she launched into Goddess opener Alibi, at which point one thing was very clear – Sydney had come to be baptised in the river BANKS.
With a single command BANKS had the audience to their feet, as she transitioned into This Is What It Feels Like. She was flanked by a simple band made up of a single drummer and a keyboardist/guitarist. They maintained the steady beats and looped backing vocals which amplified the effect of BANKS’ vocal crescendos bouncing off the church’s impossibly high ceiling.
Awash in a blood-red glaze of light, BANKS moved through powerful Goddess tracks Brain, F**k Em Only We Know and the album’s title track, which she introduced by proclaiming to the crowd with a purr that, to her, “every woman is a goddess”.
BANKS began playing and writing music on a keyboard gifted to her at the age of 15 as a tool to help her deal with her parents’ divorce. Last night she returned for a brief time to where it all started, sitting behind the keyboard for a stripped-back introduction to Fall Over, thanking the audience for the energy she felt from them after a particularly deflating tour schedule.
Despite her best efforts, that aforementioned energy could not be sustained throughout her next two songs, Warm Water and the Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs-produced Bedroom Wall, two at heartbeat-paced slow-burners with sparse percussion and stretched out, siren-like beats. Still, her vampiric movements and haunting vocals kept us captivated.
That energy made a triumphant return with Drowning, strobes filling the stage in a spiral of shifting colours. The set highlighy arrived with Waiting Game, as BANKS’ sultry voice was assisted by the ghostly backing vocals looping to form a choir, in turn echoed by the chants of the audience themselves.
BANKS thrashed around the stage while the drums built to a thumping crescendo accompanied by a dramatic, distorted guitar solo and strobing lights. The stage was once again awash in that signature red light and BANKS closed out her church service with her biggest hit to date, Beggin For Thread.
The audience was not content with ending it there and, to rapturous applause — the kind not entirely commonplace within the surroundings of a place of worship — BANKS reemerged for Stick. The now-bright lights projected looming shadows upon the church walls. With a sweep of her gown, BANKS disappeared once again behind the altar as Sydney continued to watch and, now, worship.
BANKS will appear at the remaining St. Jerome’s Laneway Festivals in in Adelaide, Melbourne and Fremantle this weekend — details below.
Laneway Festival 2015
Friday, 6th February 2015
Harts Mill, Port Adelaide, Adelaide (16+)
Saturday, 7th February 2015
Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC) And The River’s Edge, Melbourne
Sunday, 8th February 2015
Esplanade Reserve And West End, Fremantle
Image: Banks @ Laneway Festival Brisbane // Photo: Charlyn Cameron