There was no shortage of drama and power at Marathon Music Works in Nashville this past Monday. Carrying her sophomore album “The Altar” on tour across the U.S., the R&B crooner known as Banks put on a show above and beyond her fans’ darkest and twisted dreams. But even live, the reclusive R&B artist still managed to hold on to her element of mystery.

Her voice signaled the start of the show as she recited parts of the poem “Smells Like a Star” from the background, while her drummer and keyboardist took the stage amid clouds of fog. At the poem’s conclusion, Banks and her two backup dancers, dressed in all black, appeared.

She began her performance with a number of recognizably moody-yet-fierce tracks from “The Altar.” True to form, Banks mesmerized, using two microphones throughout the show in order to harmonize with her other deeper, gothic voice that appears on various tracks like “Poltergeist.”

All the while she and her dancers provided stunning visuals. Their sharp and abstract dance routine was remarkable and unexpectedly vital to the show. The dancers truly underscored the mood, wearing full black bodysuits with netting around the arms to make them look bat-like, floor-length black veils, and long, sleek, blonde ponytails. At one moment during her second single off the album, “Fuck With Myself,” Banks and one of the dancers even shared a kiss, further tantalizing the crowd.

Afterwards, Banks delivered fan favorites for everyone including ballads, debut album hits from 2013’s “Goddess” like “This Is What It Feels Like,” and less structured, groovier jams like “Weaker.”

Her segue to the show’s second half was obvious and powerful. While the dancers remained on stage performing synchronized body movements to a prepared track, Banks disappeared to the back. She emerged after a few moments to reclaim her place at the head of the stage in front of an eager, chanting crowd, donning what looked very much like an edgy, glamorous trash bag — a look only Banks could pull off, no-questions-asked. Armed in that and fueled by the audience’s wild cheering, she sang Judas live, producing an even darker, more intense trap-pop vibe.

The most notable parts of the evening were the moments in between. Several times Banks would retreat and speak to the crowd, thanking them for simply being there, her voice much more gentle than her sultry ballads might suggest.

At another point in the show, a single spotlight illuminated her presence in an otherwise dark room while she used sign language to communicate a poem. A voiceover of her reading the text, titled “Rainwater,” played simultaneously. The poem was a personal one she wrote after having a dream about a brave young girl with the same name:

“Be like Rainwater, who ran until her soft feet turned into callouses. She was able to run on any surface, branches or rocks, red ants or spiders. Her feet were impenetrable.”

Overall, Banks did her thing with class and edge. And Nashville loved every minute of her.

Photos by Kathy Yuan

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