Published Jul 15, 2016While it was billed as a Jessy Lanza show — the tour for her exceptionally well-received new album Oh No — there was a moment early on when it seemed that Lanza might be outshone by her support. Fortunately for both her and synth-pop producer Marie Davidson, who joined Lanza for the Montreal leg of her tour, Lanza was just warming up.
Davidson projected a quiet confidence from the moment she took the stage, producing driving beats that added a powerful sonic layer to her tracks that easily filled every corner of the room. While not a brash performer, the thought processes behind her darkly urgent music were almost readable on her face as she hunched over her controllers, flicking hair out of her eyes. Her intensity in a live setting invited listeners to both move and think — an offer that seemed widely accepted.
Lanza took some time to ease into her set, and started light. Her opener, Oh No's brisk first track "New Ogi," seemed almost like a prologue to the show. Like its role on the album, it's something you might listen to before the curtain even goes up. This was followed by the relatively mellow "5785021" from Lanza's more R&B-tinged 2013 release, Pull My Hair Back, a track that offers a great introduction to Lanza's silken-smooth, beckoning vocals but which didn't quite rouse the crowd left highly excited after Davidson.
It felt like Lanza was just dipping her toes in the water, as she unquestionably hit her full stride with the bigger sounds of her third number, "Fuck Diamond," and she stayed at that level for the remainder of her set, a striking presence for someone who quite literally avoided la Sala Rossa's spotlights, backed up by just a lone drummer.
The setlist oscillated neatly between Lanza's two albums, ebbing and flowing between Pull My Hair Back's more downtempo sounds and the dance floor orientation of Oh No from song to song. The velvety segues between two relatively distinct sounds — best done between the suggestive "Kathy Lee" and the sparse "It Means I Love You" — were a subtle but undeniable indicator of a particularly smooth operator.
While Lanza's music is not outwardly emotional, not overly dark or brooding, and certainly not perky, she nonetheless builds a certain uneasy, ambivalent sentiment with a particular flair in her live show, a feeling that's easier to dance away than to confront. This ambivalence peaked on tracks such as the first single from Oh No, "VV Violence," particularly on cutting lyrics like the repeated "Say it to your face, 'cause it doesn't mean a thing."
Perhaps the only thing missing from Lanza's performance was Lanza herself. She kept to the shadows almost entirely, silhouetted by a tightly programmed diamond light installation at the back of the stage. The diamond lights were undoubtedly cool, but it would be cooler to actually see Lanza shed her noir persona for a moment and perform under lights.
While dance floors might often be conceptualized as a carefree, joyous space, that's not quite the case at a Jessy Lanza show, but it all points to one particularly forward-thinking performer. In Montreal, Lanza created emotionally tense territory, and amplified it with crisp, tight beatwork in a delectably pensive yet danceable manner — a whole new way to animate a crowd.