words & photos: Sarah Rix @sarahrix
“… It’s always a pleasure to see an artist that priorities a live show.”
Jacob Banks has the sort of voice that stills and fills a room. It’s deep and booming, betraying his English upbringing – instead coming across like he’s a Southern United States preacher commanding a room full of rapt followers.
Opener Annie Bass was the understated undercard of the night, playing her first proper concert in Melbourne. She has a good voice with a tried-and-tested approach to electropop, though it’s clearly still early days for her live shows – Bass relying on some keys and backing tracks to help her flesh out the solo appearance.
Songs like “Don’t Worry” and “Forgive Me” held a sultry delivery, though it was the final, upbeat song of her set that showed there’s much to look forward to from the Australian artist, particularly once she gets some backing musicians to help support her.
Also making a Melbourne debut was Jacob Banks, over in this side of the world for Splendour in the Grass. He did an excellent job throughout the night to highlight the importance and power of a live show (even though he did seem to be battling a bit of Splendour-induced exhaustion.)
Apologising to the crowd for taking so long to get to Australia, a sold out Corner Hotel were quick to forgive – singing along (or at least trying to, given Banks’ aforementioned big voice) for much of Banks’ 14-song set. Tracks like Diddy Bop (a 2018 collaboration with American-based electronic duo Louis the Child) featured a call and response between Banks and the crowd.
“I believe coming to shows is pretty special,” Banks said to introduce “Pilot”, a special ballad that he only ever plays live. It was a nice gesture and perhaps something more artists should pick up and run with, particularly in a world where streaming and YouTube videos are ubiquitous.
What Banks will need to work on, however, is his guitar playing. He picked one up twice over the course of the night. Strumming it is, well… not his natural forte. One can appreciate the sense behind it but there’s some work to be done. And some tuning to pay attention to, too. He might also benefit from employing a touring vocalist or two. On a few tracks (including “Kumbaya” from 2018 debut album Village), Banks harmonised with a backing track. It’s probably a necessity at the moment, but definitely drew the audience out of the otherwise prioritised live show atmosphere.
His four-piece backing band proved their worth, switching from hints of reggae on tracks like “Love Ain’t Enough” and “Monster” to 50s-esque guitar lines on “Part Time Love”.
Really, though, it was Banks’ voice that anchored the majority of the night. Songs such as “Mercy”, with his deep growls, and “Slow Up”, with his note-for-note, reach-deep-into-your-heart-and-feel-it delivery, were the night’s biggest points.
It’s also clear that he’s thinking ahead to the future and trying to not pigeonhole himself in one sound. A new offering – “Gold” – started out as a bouncy gospel track, Banks singing “you can join me by the water” as the audience clapped along, before it morphed into a rock opera. It’s a pull-and-tug of genres, necessitated by Spotify culture.
“See I know you all spent money to be here, and I hope you earn your money back” he said toward the end of his set (which went big with singles “Unholy War” and the stop-start instrumentals of “Chainsmoking”). “But you see, time is currency. Thank you for trusting us with your time.”
It’s always a pleasure to see an artist that priorities a live show. Banks is one of those, and for good reason. He has the sort of voice that begs to be heard in person.