It’s been a year of milestones for NYC native MC Azealia Banks. Following the release of her highly anticipated full-length Broke With Expensive Taste, an endless number of feuds fueled by Twitter, and her gracing the cover of Playboy as a cat, Banks’s proverbial star is undoubtedly on the rise. Her sold-out show at Irving Plaza and the block-spanning line of fans who waited anxiously to be admitted to the venue only reaffirmed her diva status.
Aside from a handful of showgoers turned away due to counterfeit tickets, Irving Plaza was packed with fans who seemed to have been waiting for this moment all their lives. Whether huddled with friends or casually chatting with strangers, Banks’s adoring public arrived turnt up on the anticipation of her performance. The venue teemed with excitement. Bodies were packed shoulder to shoulder well before the evening’s openers, Strange Names, began their set. “I can’t believe she’s going to be standing right there,” one fan remarked, arm outstretched toward the stage as chants of “Azealia Banks” erupted from around the room. The adoration and energy of the crowd was undeniable. In a way, it felt holy.
As French Kick Records’ Strange Names took the stage, an eager swell of applause and shouts preceded the poppy intro to “I Can’t Control Myself.” Comprising slick riffs and clean backbeats, the song — and Strange Names’ presence in general — seemed to amplify the already dynamic energy of the audience.
“We will be your candy stripers for you this evening,” frontman Liam Benzvi joked. “And if you don’t like candy, we can just play doctor.”
“Trespassing” and “Return,” both from forthcoming LP Use Your Time Wisely, proved themselves to be crowd-pleasers, each track presenting itself as a suggestive soundtrack for summer awash in synth and beachy reverb.
Bathed in the glow of blue and violet lights, Strange Names’ Benzvi took the time to pay homage to the evening’s headliner — and, he revealed, his lifelong friend. “Azealia and I go way back. We went to high school together, and she’s been a bad bitch since she was sixteen,” Benzvi stated before “Return.” Ending their generally well-received set with “Ricochet,” Strange Names gave way to a suitably curated thump of house and dub as the audience contracted, shifting in attempts to get closer to the stage in advance of Banks’s arrival.
Again, chants of Banks’s name reverberated throughout the venue as fans gushed about their favorite track, recalled the last time they saw her live, or discussed the validity of the gossip generated by the blogosphere in response to the witch-hop star’s online persona. After nearly an hour of waiting with what felt like a collectively bated breath, the lights dimmed in sync with deafening screams and a voice welcoming “Azealia Fucking Banks” to the stage.
Beaming, Banks wasted no time, easing instantly into “Idle Delilah.” Gliding across the stage in sequins, hair flowing, Banks’s presence was majestic and eagerly affirmed by her adoring audience. By the time “Gimme a Chance” began, the dance floor was teeming with movement, with nearly every fan dutifully mouthing along to each line of Banks’s clean-cut diction and rhythmic genius. The vogue-ready intro to “1991” gave way to “Liquorice,” which forced even the most stoic of showgoers into a state of unabashed awe. “JFK” premised the ominous pulse of “Heavy Metal and Reflective,” which was greeted with collective exhilaration. “BBD” and “Wallace” were similarly received, the audience’s enthusiasm building as each second passed. Banks’s latest single, “Ice Princess,” rendered the venue willingly sweaty and out of breath as her fans pushed their way closer toward the stage without missing a single word of the track. Despite the generally well-mannered crowd, a brief, but quickly squashed, fight sprang up toward the right of the stage. Immediately — and gracefully — Banks admonished the instigators, assuring them that there was no place for their behavior at her show. The beat dropped and the show continued, “Luxury” and “Miss Amor” turning the focus back on Banks.
The evening ended with a generous encore preceded by a brief and barely noticeable exit. Beginning with “ATM Jam” and “Fierce,” and wrapping at last with the now-iconic and well-loved “212,” Banks’s onstage outro left her native city drenched in sweat and yearning for more. It seemed as though everyone, including Banks, left with a smile.