Live Report: BANKS – Roundhouse, London

A dramatic and cathartic performance...

Deep blue lights fixate on three figures dressed in black. Opener Maeve was nothing short of magnetic- summoning the audience with siren-esque goth-pop that set the scene for the main act. Welcome Jillian Rose Banks (BANKS). It’s the first UK stop on tour for her fourth studio album, ‘Serpentina’.

Selling out just hours before, the show’s theme is rebirth. Either side of the singer, two dancers writhe in netted masks. The impression is of a snakelike queenlike figure, shedding old skin to rise from the toxic past that tinged her previous albums.

But she isn’t out the other side yet. We don’t see BANKS transformed, but instead, we’re invited to take part in her metamorphosis. An abundance of black jackets, black jeans and leather make many crowd members mimicries of the main singer. The throng of twenty-something-year olds are suave, funky and determidly passionate. “You guys are the first people to embrace me,” cries BANKS. At times, background instrumentals almost overwhelm her voice. This is a shame, but does mean the audience’s shared pain can be heard and felt in lines like the mantra “You are not deserving”. Next to me a girl in red sunglasses nails every word. It’s cathartic. Cracked voices pierce through the onstage sound. 

Since her 2013 single ‘Warm Water’, BANKS’ lyrics have been infused with watery images. Here, the whole stage could be underwater, and this time it’s another symbol of transition, reflection and self-growth. Like changing tides, the setlist moves fluidly from dance tracks (‘Gemini Feed’, ‘Devil’) to hearbtreak anthems (‘Drowning’, ‘Better’) to the feminist explosiveness of ‘Fuck with Myself’ and ‘Gimme’.

Background lights ripple like reflections on a lake, and when the spotlight centres on BANKS, it’s as if a torch is shining into murky depths. You almost expect someone to reach down and pull her out. There’s a three-step staircase mid-stage, and BANKS regularly climbs to the top before plunging to the floor on all fours. Spines, hair, necks, elbows and thighs are twisted, whipped and flexed: dancers move like waves with liquid physicality. It’s a sensual, elemental and transformative performance. 

There are also times BANKS takes us to rock bottom. 2014 track ‘Someone New’ is her most vulnerable song. Simple piano replaces synth, and the dancers leave the stage, giving the sense that she’s stripped emotionally bare. Red, soft lighting shows a heart in pain. 

In ‘Deadend’, a track from her new album, there is nowhere to hide. White light illuminates the singer. Her hair is black and her face almost translucently pale. “[When] you’re faced with yourself, that’s when the real demons rise to the surface”, said the artist in an interview with mixmagShe’s talking about the pandemic. Burnt out from her 2019 tour, a diagnosis of Hashimoto’s disease and return of depression led to dark days for the 34-year-old. Locked-down in LA, she then focused on healing and regaining control of her career. This newfound energy bursts onto stage. The frail, gothic figure vanishes as BANKS climbs the steps amidst a spectacle of psychedelic light for ‘Holding Back’ – the penultimate song. The crowd’s obsessed. Vodka tonics splash in the air as hands reach out to worship the Goddess herself. 

“Remember,” BANKS vows to her audience, “I am drowning for you.” It’s true. At her most vulnerable, she’s unflinchingly honest. At her most powerful, she weaponises the stage. Either way, each move is delivered with purpose and integrity. It’s impossible to predict the next steps of the Californian-based singer. As she grows, so does her music, pushing alt-pop to uncharted territory with her devotees following every step of the way.

Words: Amelie MJ

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