Better Than: Seeing teenage girls going batshit for Imagine Dragons.
“Eighteen months ago, I was making songs in my bedroom,” a clearly overwhelmed Banks said to an overstuffed and overamped Irving Plaza on Wednesday night. She’s probably as perplexed as anyone as to how she got there.
Sure, over the past year she’s gotten shout-outs from Ellie Goulding and Katy Perry; ample press love and a key early push from the BBC; not to mention some considerable industry muscle: she’s signed to Universal subsidiary Harvest, and some of her first-ever live gigs were on a trial-by-fire stint opening for the Weeknd last fall, including a date at Radio City so forgettable this writer forgot he’d seen her there. She’s also worked with some well-chosen rising hitmakers — Sohn, Shlohmo, TEED, Lil Silva, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs — although they’re not exactly Dr. Lukes just yet.
But apart from the contents of a pair of EPs and her craftily curated SoundCloud page, there’s not one thing you can pinpoint to explain why this room was so packed with hysterical fans — not to mention various TV bookers and Jake Gyllenhaal — for an artist who’s three months away from releasing her debut LP.
The elements of her music are disparate but surprisingly cohesive: It’s got a foundation of electro-goth; a big scoop of ’90s r&b (she often covers Aaliyah’s “Are You That Somebody?” and sometimes Lauryn Hill’s “Ex Factor”); a dash of the ’70s California rock this L.A. native was presumably raised on (one of her weaker tracks has a strummy riff straight off of Best of the Doobies); and several large slices of (Fiona) Apple — the chorus to one of her earlier songs goes, “I never knew I could be broken in so many ways.”
While the musical influences come together smoothly, her stage moves are wildly schizophrenic: She’s wraithlike and withdrawn one moment, aggro and oddball the next, then confident, smooth and sexy; she’ll skulk across the stage, bob her head like a dunking-bird, then do some almost comical Stevie Nicksian winged-dove arm-waving. The stage is dark, and she and her two musicians (a keyboardist/guitarist and drummer) are darkly clad, so that when the lights drop down all you see is her face and arms.
Whatever that thing is, she’s hit the bullseye: While there was a contingent of young guys and a fair number of gay dudes, the room was overwhelmingly filled with late-teens/early-20s girls, phones aloft, taking wobbly video of the show while simultaneously dancing and hugging their girls; shrieking when the Soundcloud blockbusters were aired and waving along at the new material; singing along with a “Woah-oh-oh-oh, yeah” chorus like it means everything.
Is it all for real? As someone who’s (somehow) seen her five times over the past eight months, the show has come a long way, and considering how quickly she’s had to put together a theater-sized performance, Wednesday night’s dozen-song, 50-odd minute set just about held together. The proof will come when Goddess, her proper debut LP (only half of which was aired during this show), drops in September. In the meantime, 25-year-old Jillian Banks is soaking it all in: Among many sharing moments throughout the night, she finished by gushing, “This is one of the most special nights of my life! I love you, New York!”
Overheard: “At least she played longer than London Grammar.”
Random Notebook Dump: “Lily Allen/MySpace 2005 = Banks/Soundcloud 2014?”
Before I Ever Met You
This Is What Is Feels Like
Fall Over (Acoustic)
Warm Water (Acoustic)